Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My resonse to Jen's
Top 10 Things I Love About Not Being a Mormon Anymore
10. Right out of the gate I'm going to cheat and cram lots of reasons into one thing. These are all little things, but they're still pretty awesome: two-day weekends, not paying tithing, not wearing
garments, coffee, rated R movies, tattoos, shorts and tank tops, playing with face cards, shopping on Sundays, loud laughter, swearing if I feel like it, eating 3 meals on the first Sunday of every month, more time to read great books (instead of scriptures), and the list goes on...
· Regularly attending church services has bonded me with a supporting and caring world-wide community. It has created a feeling of belonging to a group that fosters friendship, humanitarian service, security, shared values, and mutual instruction.
· Paying tithing has taught me that material possessions are not the primary purpose of my life. Freely giving of my means to a worthy cause liberates me from selfishness.
· Most people wear undergarments. Mormons do too.
· Coffee does not provide nutrition nor serve any useful function. By not drinking it, I have more money to spend on other things, plus I don't have coffee breath. The same applies to alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and drugs.
· Tattoos may be personally interesting, but they are not essential to life and happiness. 
· Shorts and tank tops may be personally pleasing, but they are not essential to life and happiness. Mormons wear shorts and t-shirts.
· There is no Mormon restriction about playing cards or board games.
· By shopping on Sunday, one insures that many workers do not get a two-day weekend. All shopping could be done on any of the other six days of the week, giving everyone a day off.
· Loud laughter is great in the right context. I indulge regularly.
· It can be unpleasant to be around a person who uses foul language when they feel like it. Many people stop swearing when they become adults.
· Fasting one Sunday a month has health benefits, teaches self-control, and provides a monetary offering that the Church uses only and totally to help those in need.
· I read the scriptures, and I have also read the complete works of Terry Pratchett, Patrick O'Brian, J.K. Rowling, Frank Herbert, Umberto Eco, Douglas Adams, JRR Tolkein (4 times), Hugh Nibley, Vine DeLoria, and Miguel Cervantes, in addition to many books by Thomas Hardy, Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawkings, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, histories, fantasy, sci-fi, politics, art and music history and criticism, Wired, Scientific American, BBC Music, The Smithonian, National Geographic, and countless other authors and magazines. My wife reads the scriptures and she has read more books than I.
9. I love the confidence boost that comes as a result of freedom from guilt. I never realized how deeply I was affected by the guilt tactics the church uses until I was freed from them. I've struggled
with self-confidence issues my whole life and I thought it was me, something inside me. But removing myself from the influence of the church has set me free. There is no judgmental god looking down on me now. There are no meetings, lessons, and articles in which I am constantly reminded that I need to be doing more. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that without those things in my life, I'm pretty okay with me. In fact, it's entirely possible that I'm awesome!
· Guilt is a natural feeling that comes from violating personal moral codes. The only way to avoid guilt is to be amoral. 
· Properly recognized and used, feelings of guilt propel one to become a better person.
. Getting together with the purpose of mutual improvement is a human endeavor, not just Mormon.
· It may be that well-meaning people have used guilt inappropriately, but this is not exclusive to Mormons. For example, consider the Green movement. We are made to feel guilty for using the wrong kind of light bulbs or eating the wrong kinds of food.
8. I love that life has become infinitely more valuable to me. When you believe that life will continue on forever, it's easy to take things for granted. But when you realize that this is all there is, everything becomes sweeter, more meaningful. I'm no longer interested in enduring to the end. In fact, I think that's a pretty low standard for living. I want to live out loud and take risks and write my own story. I want to seize opportunities that come along, and create opportunities where none come. I feel like life has a new shiny glow on it. I treasure moments more, especially the small ones. I'm less complacent. I'm no longer content to wait for things to get better, hoping that some non-existent deity will keep promises about my life and my future. I'm going to do whatever is in my power to make the most of the time I have, and that means being more proactive about pursuing things that are important to me. Recognizing just how short life is makes all the little parts of it so much more precious.
· Frankly, I don't recognize this gross distortion of Mormonism. 
· Of all religions, Mormonism encourages its believers to live fully, improve continually, make the world better, and give to others. Indeed, it is this emphasis on aggressively doing good all your life that gets Mormons harshcriticism from faiths that believe in salvation by grace alone. 
· Moreover, our standing in the future life is largely determined by what we do in this life.
· Complacency is not a concept most Mormons embrace.
· Enduring to the end means putting up with disease, pain, discomfort, sin, and failure with good cheer, in addition to continual striving for personal, familial, and societal improvement. How can that possibly be considered a low standard?
· Mormons are explicitly taught to make the most of this life.
7. I love thinking for myself. Of course, as a Mormon I believed that I was thinking for myself. I never thought it the least bit strange that "thinking for myself" involved thinking absolutely everything that I was taught to think. Really thinking for myself is like exercising a new muscle that I didn't even know I had, and it's the kind of thing you can't really understand until you've experienced it for yourself. And it's not just liberating, it's actually fun. I genuinely enjoy the process of learning about things, weighing them out in my mind, and coming to my own conclusions, independent of what anyone else thinks, or what they think I should think. As a bonus, it's refreshing to be free of the heaps of cognitive dissonance I carried around for years. Just because I wasn't aware of it doesn't mean it wasn't there, and to be free to think whatever I want, without having to fit those thoughts into predetermined boxes, is really quite enjoyable.
· I enjoy learning about things. I'm a musician by trade, but I love astronomy,
photography, nature, art, food, history, politics, among other things. 
· One is not always aware of his predetermined boxes, even those who think they are free thinkers. Sometimes their boxes are even more restrictive.
6. Along with loving to think, I've discovered that I love to learn. I've developed an insatiable appetite for learning as much as I can about this world we live in. I love to learn about the universe and our part in it. I love to learn about how things work. I love to learn about people I'll never meet, but whose lives are just as beautiful as my own. I never thought of myself as a know-it-all when I was a Mormon, but the church really does have "answers" for so many things. Now I feel like my mind has woken up and discovered how thirsty it is. I love reading and learning new things. I love that often, when I learn new things, it only leads to more questions, more things that are out there just waiting to be learned. I find all the elements of earth, of life, and the
human experience, to be so much more fascinating than they ever seemed before.
· I don't recognize this misrepresentation of Mormonism.
· I have never felt I was restricted by my faith from learning and experiencing new things, getting to know people, questioning things, reading, or being fascinated by all the elements of life. For example, I love kimchee. My two year mission in Latin America taught me the evils of true poverty, the wonder of different cultures, the basic humanity we all share, a love for others.
5. I love being a feminist! As a Mormon, I was trapped inside misogynistic ideas that held me captive and I somehow convinced myself that these ideas were right and good. I never could have imagined how great it would feel to be free of those ideas. I love empowering myself and doing whatever I can to empower other women. I love the idea that no one should be restricted by outside expectations placed on them, that no one should have to live in someone else's box. And I love supporting change and growth in society, not just for the benefit of women, but for the benefit of everyone.
· Feminism can be in its own box with its own expectations, restrictions, blind spots, and hateful ideas.
· One can believe in different gender roles without hating women or men.
· Not all change is good.
4. I love the process of self-discovery that has taken place over the last couple years. When I was a Mormon, had you asked me who I was, what I thought, how I felt about different things, what moved me, what drove me and motivated me, the answers to all of those questions would have been rooted in the gospel. Leaving the church has allowed me to peel all of that away and re-evaluate everything. I have gotten to know myself more in the last two years than in the 30+ years prior. Sometimes it's a bit scary and overwhelming, and sometimes I surprise myself, but all of it
feels so much more authentic and fulfilling than anything I felt before.  Now I'm getting to know who I am without the facade, without the external expectations placed on me, and without pre-determined answers to questions about who I am, and I find it liberating and exciting.
· If you ask me as a Mormon who I am, I would respond, "I am a child of a Heavenly Father and Mother (God) who are compassionate, involved, caring, loving, providential, benevolent, intelligent, cognizant, corporal, connected,
passionate, generous, authentic, purposeful, trustworthy, and independent."
· The knowledge that my Heavenly Parent's only purpose is to provide the way for me to be like them motivates me far beyond anything I can imagine that would come from earthly motivations, including quotes from Bob Mouwad.
3. I love how completely my perspective on "the purpose of life" has changed. While there was some comfort to be found in having it defined for me, it was only a superficial comfort. And while not having a pre-determined purpose of life can be a bit scary, it is infinitely more satisfying and fulfilling. I get to decide what the purpose of my life is; no one else can decide that for me or assert what it should be. I don't have to live by a certain set of rules or standards to feel satisfaction or accomplishment in my life. I set my own rules. There's a thrill that comes with being in charge of your own fate, and there's a sobering sense of responsibility as well. If I want my life to mean something, to be about something, I have to do the work required to make that happen. No one else is telling me what to do or how to accomplish it. So it can feel daunting. But like so many other things in life, the greater the risk, the greater the potential for reward. I have some ideas about what I want the purpose of my life to be. They come from inside me, from who I am, from what I am passionate about. I feel a greater sense of purpose by having decided these things for myself than I ever did when things were decided for me by someone else. Now it's just up to me to go and do my best to make it happen.
· No one sets her own rules without suffering bad consequences. 
· For Mormons, the purpose of life is to become like God, live like He lives, and do what He does. That is infinitely satisfying and fulfilling. 
· One is free to choose the rules, standards, and leaders one will follow, but the consequences that accompany those choices are inevitable. You may choose the path but not where it leads to.
· Mormons believe our purpose for living and our destiny are to have eternal joy. 
· It is up to us to go and do our best to make this happen.
2. I love embracing imperfection. Let me go on a bit of a tangent: I am a huge art lover. I dream of owning an art gallery one day, just so I can spend time drooling over beautiful art. Just a couple of days ago, Cedric and I saw a couple of paintings that got us talking about different styles that we love. One thing I've noticed is that I tend to prefer paintings with messy brushstrokes. (Think Impressionism, only with a wider scope.) The more neat, precise and realistic a painting is, the less I like it. I find the somewhat chaotic brushstrokes that come together in harmony to be far more evocative than something that just looks too neat and perfect. Of course, this is just a personal preference, and one of the things I love about art is that it all speaks to us differently. But I think this is an interesting analogy for life. I've spent too much of my life trying to be perfect, trying
to fit myself into boxes, trying to meet expectations, trying to be what I was "supposed" to be. And you know what? Deep down I was miserable. I felt like I would never be good enough. Since leaving the church I have learned how to not only accept and embrace my imperfections, but to not even see them as such. I think our language lacks a word to adequately describe how I see these things now. They're not "imperfections" or "flaws," because that implies that there is a "perfect," and there is not. It also implies that they're undesirable, and they're not. My "imperfections" are simply a part of me. They are characteristics that contribute to my personality, my temperament. And while I may occasionally feel like a beautiful disaster, the point is that I'm beautiful. Who I am, the way I live, the way I love, the things that drive me, the way I respond to things... all of these things are a bit messy, sometimes even chaotic. And that's what makes them beautiful! I'm done striving for perfection. Now I just want to be me, and I want to love all the
parts of me, because if I labeled some of those parts as "flaws" and worked on removing them, I wouldn't be me anymore.
· There is nothing more beautiful than being a child of God. 
· There is nothing wrong with striving for perfection. In fact, we all all demand it and strive for it. Artists do it all the time. While Impressionism may seem chaotic, it is a mistake to think Impressionists did not follow conventions. Mozart wrote music with just the right amount of notes. Removal of any note would diminish the music. Photographers strive for perfect lighting, focus, and composition. I don't want my brain surgeon to be a student of chaos. My life depends on my car mechanic's knowledge of and slavish adherence to the specifications regarding my brakes. Lawyers make a lot of money from others' imprecision in obeying laws. When I am in court, I want a judge who is unquestionably impartial. I want my bus driver and airline pilot to explicitly follow the rules and protocols to keep me safe in transit. I demand my pharmacist fill my prescriptions with the highest degree of accuracy. A soldier's life depends on precise adherence to procedure and practice. My drinking water must be absolutely free of pathogens and parasites. I get upset when my internet service is down or my iPhone doesn't function exactly as I expect. When I buy dinner at a restaurant, I demand the preparers follow the best culinary and hygiene procedures, and not pee in my lemonade. When I read a news story I want the information to be correct and unbiased. I expect my political representatives to be honest. I want my bank to treat my money with
the utmost integrity. 
· If we are so particular about perfection in our material situations, why would we not also strive for perfection in our character? If we don't want chaos in our material life, why should we embrace it in our moral life?
· Flaws such as dishonesty, cruelty, anger, thoughtlessness, duplicity, immorality, laziness, ignorance, and selfishness should be fixed. Mormons think this is the purpose of our life identify these flaws and address anything that would make us less than what we could be. 
· Removing these flaws does not diminish me in any way. On the contrary, it moves me towards my goal of being like God, who is perfect. By removing flaws, I am more able to be of service to others.
1. The thing I love most about being free from the church is re-learning what love is. When I was young I learned about love, both at home and at church. And what I learned is that love is correcting other people, teaching other people, helping other people find their way. Love
is always pushing people to do more, to be better, to live to higher standards. Love is disciplining people when they wander too far from the right path. Love is learning to see people "not as they are at present but as they may become." Love is setting expectations so that others may fill the measure of their worth by striving to live up to those expectations. Love is helping others to grow.
· But this is precisely what is being done to Mormons in this essay.
This kind of love motivates people to serve missions, where they teach people about the way we're supposed to be living. This love motivates people to support gay marriage bans. It leads bishops to
forbid someone from taking the sacrament, or even leads to people being excommunicated. This love is why leaders are always encouraging members to do more. This love is why a BYU student tells the Honor Code office when his roommate is not living up to certain standards. Love like this is why young women are taught to cover their bodies, and to embrace their roles as future wives and mothers. This kind of love encourages members to see their non-member neighbors as potential converts. This love even leads people to call their loved ones to repentance when necessary. I used to understand that love was the motivation behind all these things and more.
· The mission of this essay is to teach people about the way they are supposed to be living, or in the case of Mormons, how they should not be living. We all share what we think is best.
· It is possible to value and defend the institution of heterosexual marriage without hating gays or depriving them of rights.
· Bishops "forbid" some from taking the sacrament because when the sacrament is taken unworthily, we are making promises we do not or cannot or intend to keep at the present time.
· Excommunication means the person is released from the promises she has made such as to take upon her the name of Jesus Christ, to remember him in everything she does, and to keep his commandments. 
· Mormon leaders only encourage members to do more......service to others.
· BYU standards are known and accepted by the student at the time of application. He signs an agreement to abide by the standards. He is free to seek education elsewhere.
· Modesty is not a uniquely Mormon concept. Wives and mothers exist in all cultures. They provide critical and fundamental societal functions which if ignored or diminished will result in personal and societal catastrophy.
· Free-thinking non-Mormons and ex-Mormons share their beliefs with others, even on the internet. Why not?
· Even non-Mormons want their loved ones to treat them with respect and kindness and to adhere to some sort of consistent moral behavior.
It turns out I didn't truly understand love, and I've had to re-learn what love really is. Love doesn't have an agenda. Love isn't self-righteous and judgmental. Love isn't concerned with rules or
expectations. Love isn't helping someone change into who you think they should be. Love is embracing them for who they are. Love is caring about someone's best interests. Love is being there for someone.  Love is respect. Love is understanding. Love is giving. Love is kindness. Love is acceptance.
· Yet there are behaviors that even those without agendas, rules, or expectations will not ignore, tolerate, understand, accept, respect, or embrace. Unless one is willing to jettison all moral criteria, one will always have expectations that are not met and agendas that are not followed.
I'm putting the old kind of love behind me. I never liked receiving that kind of love, and I felt uncomfortable giving it. For the rest of my life I will work to love and accept people as they are, to
really get to know them, to see what I can learn from them rather than thinking of what they could learn from me, to see their strengths and their beauties, and to not be threatened by it when someone's path is different than my own. I'm sure I won't always get it right, but I'm going to keep at it because this kind of love fills me so much more deeply than the other
kind. This is the kind of love that makes life worth living.
· This is the kind of love that I have always been encouraged to have in the Mormon Church and that I have tried to instill in others that I know and love. It is the kind of love that is taught in the Book of Mormon.
I'm sure I've probably missed a few things on this top ten list. There are so many reasons to love being free from the church and I'm just glad that I stumbled into this freedom. The happiness,
satisfaction and fulfillment I feel in my life now is something that Mormon Jen simply didn't believe an exmormon atheist could feel. I am happy to prove her wrong!
Here is my top ten list of why I love being in the Mormon Church. Let me rephrase that. The Church is made up of imperfect people and as such is subject to the usual flaws that accompany human endeavors. One may focus on that. I choose to take a broader view. As a philosophy of life, a way of living, a hope for the future, a cure for the ailments of the present, a moral way of life, Mormonism is:
comprehensive, dynamic, inspired, uplifting, invigorating,
powerful, penetrating, constant, inclusive, and loving.
My life has been greatly blessed by my years in the Mormon Church.