The Silver Lining to Every Cloud

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big mormon family

My Family

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get    wisdom: and with all thy getting get           understanding.” - Jewish Proverb

 

People are constantly surprising me; the ability people have to empathize with other people not like them. Such as the experience I had when I came out to my brother, Caleb. I actually didn’t tell him – I told his wife. He was very homophobic back in the day. He’s the sort of guy that I would consider classically American: The “God, Country, Guns, and Family” sort of person. Because of that, I figured he wouldn’t talk to me for quite a while or would create assumptions and stereotypes to distance himself.

That didn’t happen. His wife, Vanessa, told me later, “He felt bad actually. Because you had been struggling with this for so long and couldn’t tell him.” That was shocking to me.

My most recent experience of this nature was with my mom. She wrote me a letter a while back that I talked about in “The Gay Man and the Christian Religion.” After that I had to take a week to breathe before I could write back because I was pretty upset. I showed my hairstylist, Cam Ron (A.K.A. my therapist), what I had planned on sending and he told me that I should probably sit on it for a week before sending it because it was a little… “intense.”

So I did and what I ended up telling her was that I didn’t think we were good for each other and that I didn’t need constant negativity in my life. I also said that if I weren’t a positive influence to her either, that severance would be mutually beneficial. I also presented the societal rejection and emotional traumas that LGBT people typically experience.

She sent me a letter back and this is part of what she said:

“I hope you know that I have never written an e-mail to antagonize you. I thought it would be good for you to see what has happened in my family. I never intended to antagonize you, but the detrimental effects of my e-mails have been the same no matter what the intent was. I am sorry I have done this to you for so many years. I am amazed you and your siblings have been able to have the self-esteem that you have… I think I have been particularly hard on you. I noticed the distance between us when you were young. I thought it was just something you were going through. I never thought to look at myself to see if I was contributing to that distance… I want you to continue to be a part of my life. I am sorry I have hurt you again. I seem to do it even though I do not intend to do it. I realize my problem is that I have not accepted you. I have wanted to change you. After talking with you on Tuesday, I thought, ‘How would I feel if you were always wanting to change me?’ I know I would never feel good enough for you. I would always feel like a worm in your sight. I am sorry I have done that to you. I did not see that before. I want to try to just love you no matter what your decisions are and recognize the great good you do in this world.”

She not only wrote this but she has recently been trying to understand what it’s like to be gay. A few months ago, while I was in New York, she ordered books on reparative therapy in order to find some way to “help” me.

Since she wrote me that last letter, she has thrown those out and replaced them with a book by Ty Mansfield called, “In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-Gender Attraction.” She told me about the struggles he faced as a Same-Sex Attracted (SSA) young man; to reconcile his feelings with his religion, the inhuman treatment of those that identify as LGBT in the LDS community, and his conquest for truth, acceptance, and peace.

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My mom and dad

This struggle is something she can empathize with since she herself has struggled to find belonging and love. A few weeks ago she asked if I would go to the NorthStar Conference with her of which Ty Mansfield is the president. This is an organization affiliated with the LDS church that is targeted towards persons “struggling with same-sex attraction” but who want to live the standards of the LDS church.

I don’t feel I “struggle with same-sex attraction,” I’m just gay, but of course I went with her since this was the first time she wanted anything to do with a group of people who identified as a sexual minority. It was a really good experience.

I wasn’t sure how mom would handle being surrounded by gay or SSA men, but she did fabulous. We talked to quite a few people there. One later emailed me and told me that he was so happy to have met my mom and that she was “a gem.” I was so proud she made such a huge step.

Carol Lynn Pearson, a well-known woman in the LDS church for her poems, written works, and plays talks about this capacity LDS people have to empathize with those that struggle. She experienced it firsthand since her late husband, Gerald, was gay.

She described her fear of people knowing about Gerald in Utah given their general attitude towards gay people as such:

“Our community viewed homosexuality as evil and disgusting. I couldn’t bear to have people talking about Gerald as if he were a monster. In all the praying I had done, I had felt strongly that Gerald was as much loved of God as I was. I did not feel that the answer was to banish him or to separate him from his children If the worse actually happened and we ended our marriage, could we somehow still maintain a relationship? That would be hard to do here. Crushing judgments and shame would take their toll.

When a young man in a nearby town was discovered to be a homosexual, his mother had taken it upon herself to call BYU and have him expelled from school. She then called his place of employment and told them he was gay and should be fired. She called every subsequent place he worked and gave the same information. She told him, ‘I want you to repent, and I know the only way you’ll repent is to be reduced to the gutter. That’s what I pray for.’

Another Mormon mother, discovering that her teenage son had had homosexual encounters, did not speak to him for three months or set a place for him at the table. She was arranging to place him in a foster home.”

Later, when Carol and her family moved to California: bay area, she and Gerald got a divorce. After her own struggles to understand her own self-worth and her husband’s homosexuality, they were able to maintain a loving relationship as close friends. She met many of the men Gerald dated and continued to be a support to him.

During the huge AIDS epidemic, Gerald ended up being found positive for the disease and Carol ended up caring for Gerald till he died. In her book, “Goodbye, I Love You,” she describes the agony she personally experienced seeing someone she loved so much – who directly had a hand in her success as a writer – someone full of life, light, hope, and aspiration be reduced to a sick, dying man.

Carol Lynn and Gerald Pearson

Carol Lynn, Gerald, and their family

Along with being emotionally drained, she was also physically drained taking care of him. She turned to her ward (what Mormons call their congregations) for help. She asked a good friend of hers in the ward to tell the Bishop all that was happening. This is what her friend told her:

“’Last year a young man moved into the ward boundaries, and when they went to visit him he told them he was gay and would not be participating and wanted to be left alone. But they checked on him every once in a while, and when they learned that he was in the hospital in Oakland they went to see him. He has AIDS. The bishop’s been over several times, and the guy’s mother is here from Utah. The Elder’s Quorum is driving her back and forth from Walnut Creek to the hospital.’

I felt tears stinging at my eyes. Well, of course that’s what they would do. People who won’t even drink coffee, have a hard time understanding homosexuality and AIDS, but they don’t have a hard time understanding suffering and need. Mormons have been trained to deal with disaster since pioneer days. They can mobilize a hundred wards to get out the sand bags against a flood in half an hour. And where other floods happen, private floods that leave you adrift, they can get there in a hurry too.”

Even if my mom doesn’t fully understand what its like to be gay, she does understand the struggle people have for acceptance – not only from their peers, but from themselves because she dealt with the same thing growing up. Our struggles can either make us bitter or more full of empathy towards the vast majority of people who suffer.

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Living Authentically

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My 16th birthday. I made my own cake!

Why is it so important for gay people to “come out?” As far as I go, I haven’t cared much for dating and I’m definitely not interested in sleeping around. I had someone tell me recently that I should be one of those gay men who are active in the church and live their life in celibacy. So why is it important to “come out” for people like me? Especially when you risk severing relationships and estrangement from your community?

I think “coming out” has less to do with our view of ourselves sexually and more with the ability of living our lives in an authentic way.

Growing up, there was a certain amount of information that couldn’t be divulged and a personality needed to be developed that would be more socially acceptable.

As a child, who I was didn’t really matter. I liked to crochet doilies, I played the piano, I loved flowers, etc… That really didn’t matter at the time, but I wasn’t like other boys. I didn’t like wrestling with my brothers or playing sports for one. Even with these differences, however, I was never treated very differently.

Adolescence was a different story. Going through puberty was not fun for me. I grew increasingly different from my friends. It wasn’t just the fact that they were all talking about girls or things sex related. I grew apart because I couldn’t identify with them. I was different; my interests, what excited me as far as entertainment went, and social activities all differed from what other boys my age found interesting or worth their time.

I never liked basketball; I couldn’t care less about sports. The point of the game did not motivate me to play well. I don’t even know what straight people really liked because I took no interest in it. I liked classical music, playing the piano, gardening (except for dirt… dirt always drove me crazy. I had to wash my hands immediately after handling it), cooking, and being creative. I spent money on gardening projects. I wanted to build a beautiful pond so I saved my money so I could finance it. I enjoyed houseplants.

I’m not saying these are typical of gay men. What I’m pointing out is that I was different and found it increasingly harder to relate to people.

I learned to compensate by finding ways to distract people from how different I was. I became a perfectionist at piano performance in order to get some sort of approval from people. I became a hard worker and demanded a lot of myself in work and college. I did well. I won state competitions for piano performance at least every other year. I also was consistently on the Dean’s List in college every semester and had a GPA of 3.95.

Despite these accomplishments, I was also very depressed. I used to starve myself because I didn’t want to grow up. I wanted to be a kid again where what you did or what you talked about didn’t matter. I found it a great accomplishment when my jaw didn’t grow big enough to support all my teeth that I needed to get a molar removed. My lack of respect for my body reflected the mental and emotional maturity I developed.

Our sexuality, in reality, influences every aspect of our lives. A very small part of that deals with our sexual preferences. Sigmund Freud in his book “Sexuality and the Psychology of Love,” wrote:

“The behavior of a human being in sexual matters is often a prototype for the whole of his other modes of reaction in life.”

It wasn’t until I learned to accept myself in my 19th year that I was able to actually grow up both mentally and physically. My mission played a big part in my self discovery and helped me further my acceptance of myself.

I came out publicly after my mission in 2011 – not because I wanted an excuse to do whatever I wanted, but because I wanted to be accepted for who I was. Until I gave everyone the chance to actually love me for whom I really was, they could never really love me because sexuality is such a central part of who I am – And that has very little to do with sexual preferences as I said. If someone has a hard time accepting me as a gay man, then they never really loved me because most everything I did was in an attempt to distract people from what was inside; they just loved an empty shell that I built for myself. As Dr. Brene Brown states in her book, “Daring greatly,”

“If you divide the men and women I’ve interviewed into two groups – those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle for it – there’s only one variable that separates the groups: Those who feel loveable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don’t have better or easier lives, they don’t have fewer struggles with addiction or depression, and they haven’t survived fewer traumas or bankruptcies or divorces, but in the midst of all of these struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.”

This cannot come while we continue to rely on what we built to get us through life. It can only come when we accept ourselves and tell ourselves that we are good enough to be loved and that we are deserving of peace and joy.

Topeka Is Full Of Crazies Like Me

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Image of graffiti on building. Jesus is King.

Jesus is King!

Topeka, Kansas was probably more interesting than Disneyland. There are way more characters walking the streets out there than I ever saw in California… Such as the lady who would walk her imaginary dog behind our apartment everyday. She would just hold a leash and walk around while, every so often, she would make sure to it didn’t poop where it wasn’t supposed to poop. That would just be embarrassing.

It wasn’t Lawrence type of crazy. People in Lawrence were just hippies. The students were at least. Some of the women would “French it” which is where its apparently against their religious beliefs to shave hair. (Why?!… If you aren’t going to shave, could you at least keep your arms down? No one wants to see that.) It was absolutely revolting. But then, I think my face is disgusting if my uni-brow grows in… Needless to say, I’m not a fan of that Mexican art that you find in classy places like Taco Bell or what not. No, Topeka was different.

As legend has it: Topeka used to be the home to 3 insane asylums or “assisted living” centers. Rumor in the mission said that funding had been cut for these places so they had to consolidate their space and a few patients were let out. I’m pretty sure Elder Swapp and I met a few of them.

There was a guy named Micah. He probably wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he believed he was a hermaphrodite the first time I met him. He actually went to church with Elder Swapp once and proceeded to let everyone know that he was a hermaphrodite and that he might be gay or something. It caused quite the disturbance in our poor Victorian moral church from what I heard.

When I met him he apparently was chosen by the plants to be a prophet because they saw that he was a good soul. So he started the religion, “Ker-aft.” The worship involves doing the hokey pokey facing the plant while directing each movement toward the plant as to transfer your energy to it. They told him that the earth would be destroyed in 3 years by a planet that would collide with ours, causing major flood issues. The flood isn’t the cause of our eventual death though. No, the plot thickens…

Deep in the ocean there lives a colony of octopi. They are currently killing everything living deep in the dark waters of the Atlantic. When our earth floods, those octopi will commence the Armageddon-like destruction of all things living. He was definitely inspired, because I see no other way he could pull an idea like that out of his ass and run with it so smoothly. He didn’t even have to think about what he was saying. He knew the information both emotionally and physically.

One day a voice in his head asked him, “Do you want this to be your last life?” And before he could tell the voice, “yes,” a car whizzed by, almost clipping him, and took away his soul. He was reborn an Asian man. He even tried to prove it to us by showing us his license. He “used” to be black… Now he is “less black” according to him. See link.

I was sad when Micah ended up moving. He wasn’t all that bad to be around. He even said I had the aura of a Mason while he proceeded to open and close the palm of his hand up in my face a few times.

We didn’t live in the greatest part of town. Anything west of Washburn was pretty nice. East wasn’t so great. It made sense though since all the streets east of Washburn were named after presidents or states. I have a theory… and that is: if we want to decrease the number of troubled neighborhoods, don’t name your streets after presidents or states. Every city I’ve been to that has streets named after those two categories seem to be exceptionally seedy areas of town.

Image billboard saying haters beware. welcome to the hood.

Haters Beware!

 

I did meet a nice prostitute there. She didn’t want to hear about religion though. She was on the clock… I can respect that. Industry is a person’s best friend.

Actually there were a lot of nice and friendly people there for real. In a world where social status and social norms are given such high regard, it’s easy to stop seeing each other as humans like we are. People become threats or competition. In these poorer communities, I found that people treat others more like people. Saying the right thing or being the right type of person wasn’t as important as how you treated them. I kind of liked it.

There was this one woman named Grace. She was our “mother in Christ.” She referred to us as her “Mormon babies” and she absolutely adored us. She would call us almost everyday. Sometimes it got a little much. One morning, Elder Swapp and I were volunteering at “Let’s Help”: a homeless food pantry where those less fortunate could come and eat a good meal. She called, and we didn’t answer… She called again about an hour later, we still didn’t answer… She called again, and we didn’t answer. She left a voice mail for each of them. This is how it went:

“Hi Elder Nielson, Elder Swarpp, this is your mom in Chirst, Grace. I was just checking up on all ya’ll and want to make sure you’re safe. Call me back. This is your mom in Christ, Grace. God, Jesus, and the holy Trinity love you all. Especially me, your mom in Christ.”

Next one: “Hi Elder Nielson, Elder Swarpp, this is Grace, your mom is Christ. I’m getting worried you know. Make sure you drinking water: it’s hot out there! Give me call back! This is your mom in Christ. God, Jesus and the holy Spirit bless all ya’ll. Call me back. This is your mom in Christ.”

Last one: “WHY DON’T YOU ALL CALL ME?! I’M WORRIED ABOUT YA’LL!. CALL ME BACK! THIS IS YOUR MOM…”

This was really comical actually but it was also nice to know someone was thinking about us and cared about what happened with us. No matter where I’ve gone, I always say that I meet the best people because it’s true. Some might be a little crazy. But then we’re all a little crazy.

Bridgette and I:The Early Years

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Remember when life was so hard because mom made you eat split pea soup again? You didn’t want to eat it because 1-if it was green, it was going to be gross because the only other green thing you could think of was diarrhea which is exactly what split pea soup looked like. 2-Your dad would sit there telling you that if you didn’t finish it, you wouldn’t get any dessert. So you’d sit there for what seemed like hours building up the courage to down such a repulsive substance. You were going to die of it anyway and then your parents would be sorry.  Either that or you’d just run away from home, find a rich family that would feed you coco puffs, and then that’d teach them.

I grew up in a family of 9 kids. Adam, Bridgette, Caleb, Dantzel, Ephraim, Frank, Gideon, Hannah, and Isaac. If you’ve ever seen the play, “7Brides for 7 Brothers” you’ll see a pattern in all this. My mom had planned it this way. My dad knew they were naming us all alphabetically but didn’t catch on to the play until I was born apparently. It made keeping us all in order since he could just count us off alphabetically whenever we went to church, scouting activities, or family trips.

Our family would be a great study for gender dynamics. My sister, Bridgette, was one of the toughest girls I knew. One of her hobbies was wrestling boys and peeing on the front lawn like Adam – that didn’t work out so hot, but still… Her point was that she could do just as well at any activity that any boy could. We all hated it when Bridgette was left in charge by mom and dad when they would go to the temple or company party because she ruled with an iron fist. She was out for power. She told you to vacuum the stairs, you better vacuum the stairs and do it well or she would have your hide so fast.

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I once told her, “you’re the baby sitter.” And she then proceeded to send me to my room. I really don’t know why. She is deaf and all I can figure is that I really didn’t know how to sign when I was young and I told her to sit on the baby or something.

She had her redeeming moments though. We would sometimes have a movie night and she’d make popcorn or provide something else to eat. I remember watching Disney’s 101 dalmations on what seemed to me to be a massively huge tube television. She made sure to make us close our eyes whenever pongo and purdy would lick each other because that was not appropriate. Anyway, so there we were eating cheerios and not watching cartoon dogs lick each other and the TV pops someplace in the back and smoke starts fuming from the case. Someone in the mess of kids yells, “it’s gonna blow!” So we all run outside to the front lawn and count from 10 to 1 because that’s how all bombs work. The house didn’t blow up so we figured that we counted to fast. So we count slower 10-1… nothing. I don’t remember at which point we decided that the house wasn’t going to blow up but we probably all slept on the same bed that night after such a terrifying ordeal.

One of her life career goals was to become a robber. She wanted to wear black and beat up boys. I think she got the idea that robbers could be as fabulous as Cat-Woman from watching too much T.V… Which we really didn’t do much. She just wanted that sort of challenge I guess. People used to say that she should’ve been the boy in our family and that I should’ve been the girl.

Growing up she also taught me one of my greatest lessons and also became one of the most supportive people in everything that I’ve done and all that gone through. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for her. People generally say that I’m charismatic and outgoing. None of that would be true if it wasn’t for her.

The Gay Man and the Christian Religion

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What made coming out so hard for most gay people? I don’t think it was exactly easy for most of us. There is the special case where someone comes out and the next week they bring their boyfriend or girlfriend over to their parents the next week. I’m kind of jealous of those people. Statistics have shown that family acceptance is the foremost important factor in the healthy psychological development of people that identify as LBGT.

I feel a lot of our fear of coming out might have a lot to do with our social acceptance, which is influenced by: culture, politics, and religion. America is known to be a protestant Christian nation so it really pervades our culture and politics in a big way. I personally think religion has a greater effect on our fear of accepting ourselves because it not only influences the other two, it claims dominion on us after we die.

I think that claim is bullshit but it’s still a real issue we have to deal with. It’s dangerous to try to ignore it or cut out everything we were raised with altogether because it creates an inward division inside us. I was homeschooled and my parents are orthodox Mormons so religion was really my whole life growing up. Accepting myself as gay at first was hard because I felt I had to reject my childhood and that led to a lot of stupid decisions, dissatisfaction with life, and a hatred for people who made my life miserable. My life was at a stalemate and I couldn’t progress. I really don’t think it’s possible to move on until we make peace with our past.

I received a letter from my mom this past week. This is a little of what she said. “I feel that I am in a tug-of-war with the devil over you. Please leave your homosexual addictions and come back. The more you become involved with it, the more I am afraid of losing you. It will only bring you sadness. It is an addiction. I have known this for years but was too afraid that I might turn you away if I said such. Now I see that I will lose you if I don’t say anything at all.”

My mom is a great person and really tries to do what she believes, but this honestly enraged me. I’ve tried to keep my opinions on spirituality unbiased and open to growth, but this sort of thing pushes me into a bias of anger against the religion I was brought up in who also claim to be “the one true religion.”

So how do we keep this from getting in the way of our good vibrations and throwing off our chi? I think it comes from the ability to see that their god is not really God but something man made. Every god is different in each sub-culture. As John Stuart Mill said,

“What is called Christian, but should rather be termed theological, morality was not the work of Christ or the Apostles, but is of much later origin, having been gradually built up by the Catholic Church of the first five centuries, and though not implicitly adopted by moderns and Protestants, has been much less modified by them than might have been expected. For the most part, indeed, they have contented themselves with cutting off the additions which had been made to it in the Middle Ages, each sect supplying the place by fresh additions, adapted to its own character and tendencies.”

The god we choose to acknowledge as God, is not God at all but a creation of our own devising. And the supposed morals we choose to live and demand that others live are not the morals that God might have emphasized as absolutely important and necessary. Mill goes on to say,

“The standard to which he does refer [his individual conduct] is the custom of his nation, his class, or his religious profession… Not one Christian in a thousand guides or tests his individual conduct by reference to the [maxims and precepts contained in the New Testament].”

What I feel is important is not the dogma that each religion holds in separate regard but what is universal between all religions. When a lawyer approached Jesus and asked him what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40).

There is no separation or inherent enmity between God and us except what culture and our reaction to it has placed for us. I believe I was created the way I was for a reason and that the real God doesn’t care whether I like men or women. The greatest of all the attributes we can develop is Charity “for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail – but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:46,47).

On Religion and Superstition

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“You yourself say that belief in God… has kept some men from crime; this alone suffices me. When this belief prevents even ten assassinations, ten calumnies, I hold that all the world should embrace it. Religion, you say, has produced countless misfortunes; say rather the superstition which reigns on our unhappy globe. This is the cruelest enemy of the pure worship due to the Supreme Being. Let us detest this monster which has always torn the bosom of its mother; those who combat it are the benefactors of the human race; it is a serpent which chokes religion in its embrace; we must crush its head without wounding the mother whom it devours.”    – Voltaire

My mom always told me growing up that the devil could induce in us many emotions; there was always a counterfeit to what God could inspire. He could mimic all of them except for one emotion. And that is peace.

I wouldn’t consider myself much of a religious person although I’ve been to most Christian denominations in Utah as well as Reformed Jewish and Hindu services. I was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or LDS/Mormon for short.

I am also gay which doesn’t happen to be the most favored class of people in the church. Growing up I would’ve been compared to a sexual deviant – a “crime against nature” according to the LDS church’s former leader and prophet, Spencer Kimball – or as a pedophile. This is something I had to work through that I hope I’ll be able to share with you one of these days.

I consider myself to be very lucky in that I feel I’ve been able to come to terms with my past, my childhood religion, and not let apparent differences hinder my progression. I feel I’ve been able to make peace with these different forces that other people might regard as incompatible together. But with that reconciliation, I’ve also lost the fear that was meant to keep me in line, the sense of mysticism and wonder that surround LDS ordinances, and superstitious control the LDS organization’s claim on the afterlife.

The LDS church does so much good in other ways. I’m inspired by my ancestors that gave up all they had for what they believed in. Most my family comes from England, Scotland, and Demark. Most of Utah’s population is comprised of people from those countries. This is a good example of Genetic Drift in evolution. I don’t much care for it because I don’t really feel like going bald anytime soon. My dad and grandfathers could sport it but not me. I admire them for: first of all, being able to sport the look, and second, that they suffered financially by giving up their possessions to come to Utah, physically by disease and hardships coming here, and emotionally by the rejection of their families and friends for their beliefs or the death of children that didn’t survive the journey to Utah.

Many religions have these same types of people. While I think religious services are very beautiful and it’s mentally stimulating to see the similarities all religious doctrine have in common it’s most inspiring to me to see a group of people working towards a common goal in unity and friendship. Individual beliefs and why they believe what they believe are what make the essence of religion.

There is this one woman I know who I think is just amazing. I’ll call her Sarah. She had a sex change operation a few years ago since she was born sexually male even if she was of the female gender. That might be all right if you’re Episcopalian or some other Christian group that’s more liberal but she just happened to be raised Jehovah’s Witness.

I think out of all the Christian denominations I’ve been to, Jehovah’s Witness’ require the most work and persistence. I’ve been to a couple of services with a friend of mine who had been disfellowshipped because of his marriage to his husband. They got married in Massachusetts back when gay marriage was first legalized. I think that was back in 2005 or something. Anyway, I went to a couple of services with him and there were a few things I liked about it and there were things I didn’t agree with.

I liked how families stayed together for the whole service. I liked how the children were so well behaved and participated in the service. These are great things, but I really wasn’t much inspired to be honest.

For the most part, what I heard most of was how terribly Jehovah’s Witness’ were being treated around the world for their faith; how much evil is in the world, and how their persistence regardless of persecution would bring about their eventual salvation. Anything good said about a person had to be a Jehovah’s Witness or it wasn’t mentioned. It was basically a reiteration of the book of Revelation all over again: Christians being hunted down, hated, some even killed for their belief, the evil nature of governments and organizations, the perspective of eternity, and their eventual earthly and heavenly salvation. Nothing wrong with that – but I personally don’t think it’s healthy to be teaching kids that from the beginning of their lives, people not of their faith hate them or that most everyone is evil. Now I’m sure that’s probably not everything they teach in their meetings but that’s about what I got out of it.

Anyway – as I was saying – Sarah was also disfellowshipped for her sex change. She lost a lot actually. Her wife and son who said they would stick with her ended up rejecting her. The church teaches that if someone comes in open rebellion against the doctrine of the church, they’re not even supposed to give the offender a salutation. (2 John 1:10). So her wife and son had to cut contact with her and she is basically alone now. What moved me so much was the faith that she still had in her religion. She knew it was God’s organization on earth. It really hurt her to not be able to have the ability to go out with her fellow members and preach the gospel. She’s been writing the leaders of the church for a couple of years now trying to get readmitted.

Her faith in her religion inspired me so much that I ended up taking a few of their bible studies from her. I’m a universalist so I wasn’t really doing it out of the desire to know the truthfulness of her religion as much as to just find the truth that we all hold in common. Her passion for it came from something deeper than the religious dogma could normally influence. In all honest, I don’t think anyone can have a monopoly on truth and once you do, that truth is degraded into a form of truth in my LDS culture we call “half truths” which are basically as good as lies around here. At least that’s my opinion. If something is absolutely true, then it is held as truth in all religions and cultures. It’s held congruent with natural law.

For example, there are ancient records written in Babylon that have drastic similarities to the morals taught in the Bible:

“Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned… Slander not.” (Hymn to Samas ERE v. 445). Compare with “Thou shalt not hate they brother in thy heart.” (Leviticus 19:17).

“Speak kindness… Show goodwill.” (Hymn to Samas ERE v. 445). Compare with “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Leviticus 19:18).

“Has he despised Father and Mother?” (List of Sins. ERE v. 446). Compare with “Honour they Father and thy Mother.” (Exodus 20:12).

“Has he approached his neighbour’s wife?” (List of Sins. ERE v. 446). Compare with “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14).

“Has he drawn false boundaries? To wrong, to rob, to cause to be robbed.” (List of Sins. ERE v. 446). Compare with “Thou salt not steal.” (Exodus 20:15).

“Whoso takes no bribe… well pleasing is this to Samas.” (Hymn to Samas ERE v. 445). Compare with “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16).

“Whoso makes intercession for the weak, well pleasing is this to Samas… Has he failed to set a prisoner free?” (Hymn to Samas ERE v. 445-446). Compare with “When thou cutest down thine harvest… and hast forgot a sheaf… thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.” (Deauteronomy 24:19).

What strikes me as very interesting, despite many of the common beliefs these two cultures had in common, is the great hatred they had for each other. Babylon is commonly referred as an “abomination” to the Jewish people. In fact, they not only want restitution for what destruction Babylon caused their nation, but they claim God’s sanction on their physical destruction. “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall be he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock.” (Psalms 137:8-9).

All I can say to that is “Wow… They really must have pissed you off.” Of course there were plenty of wars and Babylon beat Israel 9 times out of 10, but how can you seriously put God’s sanction on such a terrible wish? There are plenty of other examples in scriptures that illustrate the discord that existed between the two countries. I just thought that one was especially shocking. If God is the same then why does Christ (who apparently does nothing but what he sees the Father do) teach that “It [would be] better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:2).

I would claim that these sentiments were not of God at all. They were a political ploy to create a sense of patriotism and nationalism in the people of Israel. It’s sickening to me. Just as the war for independence between Scotland and England when authority was given by the king to allow the pillaging of Scottish towns and of legalized rape. Or even considering the Papal sanction of the same during the “Holy Wars” is disgusting. Labeling things as fine is human but don’t put God’s sanction on such acts!

In not so drastic ways, this happens now. Because my friend, Sarah, was forced to leave her faith, she feels that she may be lost to all hope for a future in the Jehovah’s Witness’ version of paradise; they put a control on her emotional well being. I don’t believe a good Supreme Being would wish anyone to do that or have anyone feel that helpless.

This happens in the LDS culture as well. There is a certain way we feel we have to be in order to be comfortable in the religion. We have to say the right things, we don’t want to question or bring up legitimate concerns around others; we have to look good. We begin to see things in a very black and white way.

I remember when I was little, we went on a family trip to Wyoming where my dad was from. At the hotel, there were people smoking outside. I told my mom, “Look, those guys are bad.” I probably spoke it out loud too. I wasn’t known for being very quiet at all or being very considerate. I embarrassed them a lot I think. There was one time I told my dad’s co-worker that he was fat right to his face… Yeah, I had no filter.  Anyway… but that’s what we were programmed to think. There was good and there was bad and those were always shown by actions. There are sins and there are things we had to do and be. The church was good and everything else was less than good or, in other words, a lie. We were expected to follow the rules as best as we could under threat of terrible spiritual sorrow and social embarrassment.

It was so refreshing to hear of my sister-in-law’s openness to share experiences with depression in her church when talking about such stuff is so taboo. After all, “despair cometh because of iniquity.”(Moroni 10:22). Or “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10). What’s wrong with this sort of mentality is that we begin to think that most all our sorrow or depression comes from being wicked. If that’s the case, then I would say our paranoia of making sure we do everything right is a sin because there’s no way we can be happy if we’re continually beating ourselves up for being imperfect, trying to cover up our imperfections, and then beating ourselves up for further being imperfect.

This is why I don’t believe any religion can claim a monopoly on truth. Because when that happens then God can be used to approve of one thing and disapprove of another. And more often than not, “God’s will” is used to further an organization’s influence or power. Isn’t there enough forces that can depress us from everyday life that we don’t need someone to tell us that there is something wrong with us and that no matter how good we become, there is always something missing? Being gay was a big issue for me. I’ll have to write about that one later because I could go on and on.

This is the superstition I believe Voltaire was speaking of: the dogma of religion. These are the outward ordinances Baptists talk about so much. They have a point for sure. These are actions or words that are frequently done or said but with no real spirit or drive behind them. Conviction that I witnessed in the beliefs of my friend Sarah was very inspiring to me. I still don’t think she needs to be part of the Jehovah’s Witness’ congregation because I believe that God already sees the goodness in her heart and her desire to serve Him/Her and that worship is pure. Everything else is just superstition. All religions can help a person obtain this but I don’t believe they are necessary.

In C.S. Lewis’ last book in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, we see two separate factions of religion. The Narnians worshipped Aslan the Lion, the Calormene worshipped Tash. The true God in this story is Aslan. There was one Calormene named Emeth who served Tash all his life. When he dies, he finds himself in Aslan’s heaven and he recounts his experience meeting his supposed enemy, Aslan there. He says,

“In a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant’s; his hair was like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honor) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome, But I sad, Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou has done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.”

My philosophy is that there is so much good all around us. Why can’t we appreciate it? Any differences we have from each other are beautiful. As Spinoza would say, God is all around us. Everything that is good comes from God (Moroni 7:12). Maybe this God isn’t a personage or a substance but there is good out there and that’s what we should be searching for. What really matters is how we think, and how we treat others. As far as dogma goes, their end is in our peace. When we are at peace with ourselves and with others, then real beneficial change can happen. We ultimately choose our own happiness and peace or our own depression and stress in the end.