Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bottles of Religion and Politics

Disclaimer: This is an OP ED piece. If both the subjects of religion and politics disturb you, I am giving you fair warning that this might upset you, and I wouldn't read. I am in a truth-telling mood today, and although I make no apologies, this may not make you very happy. You make your own choice, and read at your own risk…   Raymond

I'm sure that the writing I'm doing this morning is not going to be popular amongst my relatives and probably friends alike, but I'm taking a play from my mother's handbook to always tell the truth, even if it is from my own perspective. She also was the first and most powerful mentor in teaching me about critical thinking.

Yesterday, we were talking about the wonderful book she has written, a memoir of her early years, and I said to her, "The reason you must finish this book is because people will see you as you really are, and not who they perceive you to be…"

In my mother's case, I think it is very true, for I grew up with her, and at a later place in my life, accepted her, and that changed everything. It's very difficult to really know a person until we stop judging them and accept them for who they truly are. I began to see the writer in her that I could not see before. I began to see her brilliance, her convictions, her discipline, and also, what it has cost her. As I have begun the process of developing my own need to speak my truth, it has become apparent that the truth is costly, but it is liberating at the same time.

Even though I was born in Los Angeles and feel a kinship to that city, my family are all from Southern Utah. In fact, both sides of my family came pushing across the heart of America with the wooden hand carts of the Mormon migration west. My Grandfather five generations back was Hyrum Smith, brother to Joseph Smith, my uncle, the first prophet of the Mormon church and translator of The Book of Mormon. My Grandfather also died by gunshot with his brother in the Carthage jail. Another Grandfather was Peter Shurtz, who was one of the original Mormon pioneers whose innovation is known throughout all of the early history books of the church. On my mother's side, you will find my ancestors coming directly from Scotland and Ireland during the great missionary crusades of the UK, during the first generation of the LDS church. Although my mother rebelled against the church when she was a young woman, my other aunts, uncles, and relatives tried to keep me in, which gave me much of  the church experience growing up.  I have always kept my interest leaning towards that culture, wanting ambitiously to be a part of the church of all of my ancestors. My insistence on not becoming Mormon is not for not wanting it, and, hoping I don't sound arrogant, I've probably read more, sought more, than many people who are members of the church. For me, it was not to be, and honestly, after this last foray with the young missionaries in a class, it will probably never be.

I preface with this paragraph, because as I write, I want the reader to know that although there are many reasons I can't vote for Mitt Romney, one is because I think I understand his faith and how it pertains to his politics. As a kid growing up, and many years spent around that culture, there are lots of experiences I had that have caused me to come to certain conclusions regarding not only this faith, but many religious faiths. You may not agree, but I believe that religion causes many more problems than it solves. And I believe there is a reason for this, and I see it clearly as I closely pay attention to this particular presidential race.

There are many issues that deeply disturb me that I will focus on, (however, I can't cover them all) that in my experience, I can't help but ponder and come to my own reasonable conclusions.  Please keep in mind as you read this, that these are my experiences and perceptions. I'm not trying to persuade you with my rhetoric, but I do have a penchant for sharing things that many would say I should not do in a public forum. However, as I grow older and write more, I have lost that drive to be the likeable kid, the kid who had to adapt to survive. The kid who had to say the right thing, do the right thing, and mold myself into something acceptable. Even during my raucous and rebellious periods, I still deeply regretted my sins, and was constantly checking and attempting to repent for my bad behavior. I suppose now, my bad behavior is relegated to my writing and my work as an artist, censorship be damned!

The first  issue I want to talk about is the principle of faith, which although I believe is a grand and wonderful precept, I also believe that leaps of faith cause many to believe in things that stands logic on its backside, and there are more leaps of faith in the Mormon faith than I could every explain here. Two years ago, I once again set out to explore the faith of my fathers, taking another missionary class to do so. It just so happened that while I was taking this class, I had recently started my study and interest of astronomy, and all things, universe. I was doing fine during the class for the first three weeks, (although still slightly disturbed) until the doctrine of the sun, the moon, and the stars, was introduced to me, as an indication of the three celestial kingdoms, and how I would end up in one of these three. This doctrine, I believe, was given to me, (and is given quite early in the teaching) as a persuasive idea of a wonderful heavenly taste of the afterlife, that would suddenly change the way I lived my life so I could get into the highest order of heaven. As open as I was to the teaching, I found myself sitting there with these two very passionate missionaries thinking, "I just flat out can't believe that…" It was a leap of faith that I knew I could not make, and honestly, sounded like something from a fantasy novel. Right away, I found myself wanting to explain the physics of the universe to these young missionaries, as a way of explaining something that was a more concrete  reason that would enable me to believe. It is not a stretch in my way of thinking to accept the idea that when my body releases my spirit I could take long vacations into the universe, but putting me in one of three kingdoms based on my work and my life on earth was again, a leap of faith that I just could not make. I kept my mouth shut, though with these young missionaries,  I just never came back to the class. 

I think it is much easier for someone in a life based on leaps of faith to dig tremendous holes in logic, if you are brought up making one leap after another, it becomes a habit to do so, and so its not so hard to start making leaps of faith in regard to every part of life itself, even believing things that are only partial truths, and only listening to part of the story before you can believe.

I see this happening everyday in politics, "That if I just take a leap of faith and believe in part of this story I'm telling, either the rest will come or else the rest is a mystery that only God knows." 

In other words, it does not surprise me to only hear parts of the political story from someone with a leap of faith based life, when it comes to the other part of the equation, I've noticed the ease in which so much is left out.  (Sort of like Joseph Smith's prophecy on people who lived on the moon and how they dressed. You don't hear this story much, or many of the other prophecies, just the ones that are not as outrageous.) What becomes problematic is that a good part of the world does not think with this kind of illogic. I have seen this in the faith of my fathers, since I was a child.  Any good missionary or evangelist knows how to sell the gospel and belief, you focus on how your life will be blessed if you believe, not everything you must believe to receive these blessings. Further, the ABC principle, always be closing, is of primary importance. (I forgot to tell you that with the missionaries, before any teaching started, they wanted me to set the date of my baptism, ABC). I believe I am the way I am though, because of my mother, who I witnessed living another kind of truth. It was a truth that I could believe, a truth that I could deduct as reasonable. It was a belief that included science, logic, instinct, copious amounts of reading, and experience.

When I was a very young child, after my mother and father divorced, and my father remarried and went back to the church, for awhile, my brother and I would go and visit him and his new wife. Like thousands of children in this situation, I sort of understood the circumstances and sought to be liked and accepted by my father and his new wife, who was also devoted to the church. I found myself astounded by the way I was treated, like I was in the way, like I was not wanted. Now, in defense of my father, this was mostly the treatment I received by my stepmother, but still, I wanted to be loved and wanted to be a part of the church, my father, my stepmother, and all things that were of God. I think many children who find themselves in situations like these, either rebel completely, (which I did later on) or they set about to change their behavior so they will be likeable and not rejected. I did everything I could to be a good kid, but still found that I was repulsive to my stepmother. It was very difficult for me to make the leap of faith condoning this behavior, but there were other things I noticed, subtle things. For example, in the Mormon faith there is the word of wisdom, which in short, is to refrain from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. In many of the households, (still to this day) coffee is hardly ever consumed, nor is smoking or drinking, but in my father's house, it was okay to drink Pepsi, (never Coke) but there were cases and cases of Pepsi. My father explained that Coke was against the word of wisdom, but Pepsi was not. I illustrate this to you to explain that it is an easy leap of faith to bypass the word of wisdom and drink Pepsi instead of Coke, even though they both have caffeine. In other words, rationalization is so prevalent in the church that it's sometimes bordering on the ridiculous. As though a small un-truth is okay, but you must stay away from the larger un-truths like smoking. I've noticed this all of my life, and its subtle, but prevalent. When I examine all the rationalization going on with Mitt Romney, for someone like me who has seen this rationalization all of my life, it doesn't phase me, as with this leap of faith, the truth is what you make it, if you can get others to believe it too. I'm not letting other faiths off the hook, for seven years I lived an extremely disciplined life as a born again Christian, and I saw the same things there. I experienced it in myself. The only difference to me seemed to be the tendency of the fundamentalists to at least bear the weight of their sins, and occasionally admit it and repent.

Like many people, I'm not a political or religious scholar, but I am inquisitive, and I do have an interest in both and am very active in reading, observing, and writing about it. I admit, I like Barrack Obama, but there are many things about him that I relate to. I was raised by a single mother. We lived frugally, and sometimes, we were very poor. I also know what its like to try and achieve and be successful in life when there is hardly anyone to depend on. I relate to Mitt Romney in a couple of ways, and in ways that cause me to empathize with the man, but not put any trust in him. Being the kid of a single mother and one that was controversial as well, put me in a category of mostly being ignored by people who lived the way you were supposed to live. When you are a poor kid being raised by a single mom, you fall through the cracks of most institutions. The institutions are set up to funnel energy and enhance those who have great support systems. The only caveat in these systems are sometimes individuals, who at various times in my life made attempts to help me navigate my way through parts of life. Although I don't blame my mother, we are a society that usually lumps people together, sort of like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree philosophy. Sadly, children are often judged not on their own merit, but through the actions of their parents, and in my case, because my mother was a talker, a reader, a very prolific writer, and a auteur of her own perceptions of truth, I often found myself confused as to why I was disliked, even though I think I was a fairly easy kid to like. (I had my own personality separate from my mother.) My perception of Mitt Romney is not of a person who would pick me out of the crowd to help, and I would go so far as to believe that like many, I would be asked to survive on my own, without help, without support. Sound familiar?

If this hasn't upset you already, there are two other reasons I believe are part of the very subtle make-up of Mitt Romney and his connection to the church that may indeed, upset you. The first is polygamy, which I feel reasonably qualified to speak on. Both sides of my family, and only two generations back, my ancestors were all polygamists. My father's grandfather had two wives, and my Great Grandmother on my mother's side came from a five wife family. If you are a believer in collective thinking, it is not a stretch as you study your own family to have some inkling and reason as to why this leap of faith is disturbing, and if you are me, you can't help thinking that there was something very wrong with this doctrine. And, it is the politics of the explanation that disturbs the most, because its wrapped up in the idea that it was necessary and a revelation that came straight from God through the prophet, my uncle, Joseph Smith. I'm sure there were many men and women through the leap of faith belief in this doctrine who adhered to it the best that they could, but there were just as many men who took advantage of it for their own selfish reasons, and NO ONE can convince me otherwise. When you start to study the history of polygamy and start examining the age of the collective taking of wives, it doesn't take a scholar to figure out these very older men with the most recent wife being the youngest, that there was more than just God's doctrine going on.  Alas, the explanations, (and I've heard them all) will never convince me that this doctrine of the first fifty years of the church was what God wanted. Rather, it was what the men wanted. Thus, not just in the Mormon faith, but with many religious faiths, if you are a woman, you have many years of submissive behavior to overcome, and it ain't over yet, by a long shot. I don't completely blame Mr. Romney for his condescending behavior towards women, (it's part of his faith and still is) but if you are an independent and strong woman, do you want this insidious behavior in your president?

There is one last thing today, that I will drink, from the bottles of the two subjects that should not be spoken of in a public forum, politics and religion. I will let you in on another little subtlety from my experience with the church. Racism. Up until 1976, African Americans were not allowed into the priesthood, and if you have lived amongst many Mormons and in the state of Utah, you will know why. Even though many in the Southern part of the state where I am from there is a scarcity of African Americans, there is no shortage of racism. When I was a young man, I finally put my foot down to my Dad, when I had heard the big 'N' word enough. I told him in very direct terms that "He was never to say that word around me again or there would be a fight." Do you know what he said? And he said it in earnest. He said, "Well, the blacks are great entertainers…" The truth is, he didn't know any better, however, this is what he grew up with, and don't believe for a moment that the church has purged it from the books. Racism is as alive and well in Utah as it is in the South and most parts of the country. This is disturbing, but like all of the institutions that kept segregation alive until the tide began to turn in the sixties, just remember that the church kept it alive until the late seventies. I ask you, should they get points for the revelation to let blacks into the priesthood?  Ridding an institution of racism is not an overnight success. I still have to blanch and keep my silence amongst relatives who still speak the venom of racism and keep it alive today in the state of Utah. Am I saying that Mitt Romney is a racist? I am not, what I am saying is that it is pervasive in the church, still, and to think it is not is na├»ve. My father was rarely around African Americans, except maybe in the service and when he moved away from the small town he was from, but he kept what he had learned most of his life, and it was ugly, and it was hateful, and I saw it. I let my father off the hook because of ignorance,  (and because I loved him) but it is not so subtle around relatives and people that are lured into thinking I am just like them in regard to the "niggers." I am not. Should I take a stronger stance when I hear this kind of talk and thinking? You bet, I should, and am ashamed that I didn't do it more often. 

I spoke earlier about accepting my mother and how that changed my value and my understanding of her. I also said that acceptance was a way to circumvent judging people and offers a door into understanding who a person really is. To some, my opinions may seem very judgmental, however, this is my experience, and there are situations and terms of character that I will not accept until there is an element of truth. All of us, whether often or rarely, tell partial truths and leave some of the story out. Some of us are also bound by our convictions, whether good or bad, and some of that is not completely our fault. However, we are also free to think and speak our own truth, and find ways of discerning and seeking it. Some of my biggest issues with both religion and politics, is the tendency I see to compartmentalize the truth in the doctrine of our own beliefs. However, if you want it both ways, whether you want it to or not, it affects our character, all of us.  God did not suddenly decide that polygamy and racism was wrong and changed it at the appropriate time. Men did this and used God as a cover to justify its blight. Once men can admit that, then there is hope, until then, God inserted into politics will always get the same result, half-truths, down right lies, and division.

Wow, I just read what I have written, and am remise to post, perhaps I will let it set most of the day before I do, as I have said though, I am drunk with politics and religion, and so the truth seeps out. I can't help thinking though that there are people who will understand where I'm coming from, and might even be afraid to say so, but I have to get over these impulses to not find and express my own truth. 


Jnet said...

Incredible writing Raymond. I found myself nodding my head and smugly smiling as I FELT your feelings and frustrations. Thanks for taking the time to put it into words. I probably will read it again and again. Religion is what causes terrorist attacks and completely irrational behavior. Again, incredibly well written and appreciated from one home-grown Mormon to another! Love ya!


Bohemian Cowboy said...


Thank you for your very warm response. Tackling any religion in any form is tough to do in writing, and honestly, I am conflictive about it, and the truth is I am very fond and proud of my history and my family. I do think, however, that I come at it from a unique perspective. Last summer, after the fire, Del LeFevre, Boulder's bishop, was one of the first on the scene. I appreciated his concern, and that is what he offered me, it was powerful. On the other hand, a year before my Dad vanished, he had started to go to church, (which I thought was great!) Three weeks in, the bishop then started hounding him about 'getting him ready to go to the temple'. After that day, he never returned to the church and a year later was gone. I'm not saying that it was caused by this bishop's words, (I'll leave his name out) but I will say that its an example of the difference between humanity and religion. Del told stories about the old days, which was comforting, this other bishop focused on getting Dad righteous. Some of my favorite people are LDS, my Aunt Renon, God bless her, was and is, a true saint, and always has been. I remember one summer after a particularly hard winter, when I arrived in Boulder, I went to her house and ask 'for a blessing'. Although I think she was a little shocked at my forwardness, she prayed for me and I felt much better. It isn't the basic tenets I oppose so much, rather, its the covering up of so much. I was a very observant kid growing up, I knew who I could trust, but I also was very cognizant of what was going on around me. I couldn't figure out why there was so much to cover. For example, I knew that Kevin Spencer was ravaging the area as a pedophile, but it was hard to get people to listen to me. Further, with my Dad's later family, it was hard to figure out why Gary and I were so despised. It was very 'un-mormon'. Religion, any religion is paradoxical in that is causes so much destruction, and yet, where would we get any kind of moral compass to lead us in life? The questions are tough, and the road to the truth is tougher. Thank you so much for being a friend, a cousin, and for keeping in touch with me, it means more than you know...