Sunday, May 2, 2010

Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy

As the days and weeks went on, I learned to be OK with my conclusion. That may seem strange to somebody who has never questioned the church; it certainly would have been strange to me when I believed. Yet, a rational person does not reach a conclusion because they want it to be the right one. A rational person weighs the evidence and chooses the conclusion that seems most sensible to them-- regardless of their own desires about the truth or falsity of said conclusion. A sane person does not force themselves to believe something that seems to them patently false. Truth does not change; only our perception of it does.

The LDS church is not very generous to people who leave it. Someone who has left the LDS church is usually labelled an "apostate"-- the worst thing in the world to be, if you are a Mormon. The LDS church publishes Sunday School lessons and the General Authorities give talks about "Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy" and "Avoiding Personal Apostasy." Since the leaders of the LDS church naturally believe that it's true, they have to come up with reasons that people would leave (besides finding the church to be false). One of the most common is "offense." The concept of being offended is often illustrated by stories from the early LDS church. One is the sad tale of Symonds Ryder. When Symonds was issued a mission call, whoever wrote it up spelled his name "Rider" instead of "Ryder." Symonds decided that if a church that was supposed to be true couldn't even spell his name right, why should he believe that it was right about other things? He apostatized.

Another is the Tragedy of the Milk and Cream. Two sisters of the church had agreed to an arrangement involving milk and cream for cheese. One sister cheated the other, keeping more cream for herself than had been agreed. The slighted sister confronted the cheating sister, who denied any foul play. The case was taken up through the home teachers, the bishop, the stake president, all the way up to the president of the church (why they thought a disagreement over cream was something the president would care about is beyond me), the cheating sister denying her cheating the whole way. When the ruling was consistently against her, the cheating sister and her husband left the church, and her husband supposedly got Governor Boggs to issue the infamous Extermination Order. (As an aside, it seems to me that the moral of this story is that church and the judicial system ought to be separated.)

Thus we see the bitter fruits of apostatizing because one has been offended. And, as we all know, a rational person is easily offended by the misspelling of a name or a correct pseudo-judicial ruling. We must take especial care to avoid such things.

Another cause commonly ascribed to apostasy is presumption-- the apostate has criticized church leaders. This version of apostasy irks me because I'm a free-thinking sort of person. I believe that anybody and everybody who holds authority (read: power) over somebody else can and should be open to questioning and criticism. Trusting authority implicitly leads to slavery.

As you should be able to see, I don't fall into either category-- unless you interpret the definition of criticizing authority very loosely (a good part of the body of evidence I found against the church was the fact that Joseph Smith was a charlatan. Polygyny, polyandry, fabrication, Book of Abraham, theocracy, destruction of freedom of the press-- deception and misdeed upon deception and misdeed).

Since apostates are painted in such an unfavorable light by the LDS church, and since I was a student at an LDS-run school, I was in a delicate situation. I couldn't exactly "come out" to those around me-- apostasy is an excommunicable offense, and excommunication while at an LDS school leads to expulsion. The LDS church is very interested in using the Brigham Young Universities to turn out individuals who are good representatives of the church-- educated, articulate, and with strong testimonies. Conformity is the rule at BYU.

As a result of this situation, I was forced to pretend to be something I was not. It was easy, in the sense that I knew how to act. I didn't have to change my behavior at all. It was difficult in the sense that I don't like keeping my thoughts and feelings secret. I prefer to be up-front-- "This is who I am, this is what I believe. If you disagree with me, then I'd love to have an intellectual debate with you, or we can agree to disagree. But you have to accept that this is who I am." Faking interest in saccharine Relief Society activities became a chore-- I would study late at the library just to avoid being roped into going to activities. My saccharine interactions with the bishopric and other church leaders developed a slightly ironic edge. I found that a sarcastic tone would creep into my comments in church classes, and before long I was expressing mild disagreement with teachers and FHE siblings. In short, I became frustrated at the cage that I was imposing on myself. True, the cage was somewhat imposed by the LDS church and its conformist school, but I chose to go along because I wanted to stay at that school. It was my choice, though I resented it.

As time went on, I found that this cage forced me to explore my personality in new ways. I felt defiant. I no longer believed that the primary purpose of my existence was childbearing; I defiantly threw myself into my studies and other intellectual pursuits. I decided to develop a persona that, while still within the boundaries of BYU-acceptable behavior, pushed the edges of the cookie cutter.


  1. PG - please keep writing. Hope things are going well for you.

  2. Thanks :). Things are going well.