Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Prologue: Molly Mormon

I was born Mormon; it's that simple. Mormonism is what I was taught all my childhood, and I never questioned it.

Mormons are taught not to question. Oh, sure, leaders say that members ought to "gain their own testimony" and all that jazz, but in reality, members are discouraged from reading or watching anything not "faith-promoting." Any source of information which isn't openly pro-Mormon is labelled "anti-Mormon," even if it is in fact sympathetic to Mormonism, but is open about facts.

I was a very good Mormon. In Primary (the children's organization), I was a good little girl-- I memorized the Articles of Faith, paid attention in class, and I got baptized as soon as I turned eight. When I turned twelve, I joined Young Women, the LDS church's organization for teenage girls. I read my scriptures daily, attended all activities, did not date before 16, dressed modestly, earned my Young Women Medallion-- all of that. I had a very strong testimony. After high school, I applied and was accepted to one of the church's Brigham Young Universities.

As I was taught, I set my sights high. All I wanted out of life was a good Peter Priesthood who would take me to the temple to be married for time and all eternity, and with whom I would have five or six children. I never seriously considered what career I wanted, because working was plan B-- in case I didn't get married right away, or my husband got laid off or something. I planned on college, because the prophet had counseled women to get an education-- but never seriously planned on doing anything with my degree.

Growing up, I was exposed to very little literature that was "anti-Mormon." The closest I came was when, as a teenager, I stumbled upon a copy of Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History; the first non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith. What I read was very disturbing; Brodie painted a picture of Joseph Smith that did not at all resemble the picture that I had always been given-- namely, that of an honest, bright young man who was, like Samuel, called to be a prophet in his childhood. I did not get very far into Brodie's book before I had to give it up; reading it was too painful. In my mind, it was literally impossible that her account of Joseph Smith could be accurate. There was no question; she was either lying or misled. That was the end of that; the book was returned to the library, and I thought no more of the issue for the time being.

Growing up, I based much of my self-esteem on my... Mormon-ness, for lack of a better word. I played the piano and organ. I could be counted on to serve effectively in any number of church "callings." While I was assertive-- I made my voice heard when I objected to a certain activity or policy-- I never actually questioned the church itself. Any problems were the fault of the fallible humans running the program.

I was fascinated by the "Last Days" aspect of the LDS church. Mormons believe that the second coming of Jesus is very soon, and that it is being preceded by such things as war and natural disasters. In fact, there is a very specific sequence of events that is supposed to precede the coming of the Savior, particularly involving the Holy Land. I loved reading and discussing all this, and I was very excited for it to happen. I looked forward to being immortalized in the Millennium, and eventually becoming a goddess in my own right in the Celestial Kingdom.

As a teenager, I received what Mormons call a patriarchal blessing. That's where you visit an ordained patriarch, and he lays his hands on your head and gives you a blessing, wherein he tells you what types of blessings you may receive in this life and the next if you are true to the faith, what kinds of trials you may have to face, and such things (although the LDS church insists quite adamantly that these blessings are not any form of "fortune telling," but "pages from the book of possibilities").

My blessing was pretty generic, as these things go. It told me that I'd have the blessing of marrying in the temple and being a "mother in Zion." It mentioned missionary work, temple work, and homemaking. Later on, my blessing would become one of the hardest things for me to let go of.
It's sometimes difficult for non-Mormons to understand how difficult it is to lose one's faith in the Mormon religion. Mormonism promises literally everything-- that we have the opportunity to become gods and goddesses. The church was my primary social network. All my closest friends were members. My youth leaders were almost like relatives. All of them were depending on me to be true to the faith, and I let them down. I can't describe how hard it is to look back on the youth conferences where I sang, "Shall the youth of Zion falter in defending truth and right? While the enemy assaileth, shall we shrink or shun the fight? No! True to the faith that our parents have cherished, true to the truth for which martyrs have perished, to God's command, soul, heart, and hand, faithful and true we'll ever stand." The youth temple trips and girls' camp testimony meetings, where we promised each other that we'd be true to the faith, no matter what. I was so naive; I never imagined that there could be anything but Mormonism. It was my everything. Starting over after losing my religion was like literally picking up the shattered pieces of my life and rebuilding from the ground up. My self-esteem, my friends, my family, my future, my past, my present, my political views, all the happy memories of my youth and childhood were wrapped up in Mormonism. Losing that is truly devastating.