sent in by Daniel
I was born into a Utah Mormon family, a descendant of pioneers and Saints who had been without exception faithful in their callings. I spent part of my childhood in Central Utah and the remainder in Southern Idaho, always in the loving embrace of the Church. While still an infant I was already being primed with basic Mormon doctrine. I was a shining star in Primary, a golden boy with golden hair shimmering in the light of the gospel and bright blue eyes beaming the joy of being blessed to be born in the heart of the true church. “A Mormon boy, a Mormon boy, I am a Mormon boy - A rough and rugged sort of chap; an honest Mormon boy!” To this day I can still sing my primary songs word for word. Ah, the many times this boy returned home with an adhesive star upon his forehead!
I recall very vividly my first major infraction of Church protocol. I was seven years old and I was being edified with a Primary lesson on Noah’s Ark. The day before, our family had visited the zoo in Salt Lake City, and it seemed unlikely in my tiny mind’s estimation that anyone might build a sea-going vessel large enough to house all of the animals at the zoo let alone all the animals in the world. Also, I had been impressed with the huge amounts of forage that the elephants were consuming at the zoo, and the logistical problem of feeding every kind of animal in the world seemed apparent to me. I don’t recall verbatim the exchange between wise teacher and enquiring student but it went something like this:
“But how did Noah get all of the animals into the ark?”
“God did it, made ‘em come two by two…”
“But how did Noah get animals that lived far away across the ocean, like kangaroos?”
“God did it…commanded all the animals…and they followed God’s commandment.”
(Do you think there might be two flies buzzing around God’s sandwich as a reward for being obedient? Celestial flies enjoying the blessings of the righteous? But I digress!)
“But what did they eat? Where did Noah put all the food for the animals?”
“Noah put food in the ark like God told him to do!”
“But if there were only two of each animal, what did the lions eat?”
(From the mouths of babes, huh?)
Snatch!!! The Sunday school teacher jerked me by the arm off of my little chair with such violence that I actually saw stars! There is a lapse in my memory from that point until I was slammed down on a hard wooden bench in the empty chapel, and a long boney fingered was jammed in front of my nose. I remember my teacher’s face, flushed with anger, as she spat something about me not moving until the Primary president came. And I remember wondering with a surrealistic combination of fear and bewilderment what the hell I had done to merit my present condition.
They taught me at a young age not to ask the wrong questions.
We had ten children in our family. My father’s stated goal was twelve. And this goal was stated frequently, with much pride. He would declare with bubbling exuberance to his fellow priesthood holders. “I’m going to have a dozen!” He reiterated this statement with such frequency that until now the word ‘dozen’ still has a negative connotation in my subconscious mind. His goal was cut short due to my mother’s near death at the birthing of the tenth child, but he seemed to feel secure in his knowledge that he had brought enough spirits into the world to guarantee him no small degree of heavenly blessings.
We, his children, wore secondhand clothes most of the time – smelly, ill-fitting, out-of-style, thrift-store clothing that caused all of us a good measure of emotional distress not to mention scorn and ridicule by classmates. (In our common brand of dark humor my sister and I now refer to our childhood family as “The Dirty Dozen”.)
I was often hungry as a child. This was Utah in the 1960’s. There was plenty of food for everyone – the land of plenty. There was enough for tithing, enough for fast offerings, but not enough to keep my brothers and sisters and I from going to bed hungry too many times. Fast Sunday always posed a puzzle in logic for me. We fasted, went without food, in order to raise money for the poor people who didn’t have anything to eat.
Family Home Evening was a fearful event held each week in our house. I met the dreaded hour each and every time with a trepidation that to this day makes my hands tremble just a bit at the recollection. This was a regular torture/brainwashing session my pitiful brothers and sisters and I had to endure for the entire duration of our childhood. In these mini church sessions we went through the agonizing motions prescribed by wise men in Salt Lake City for the building of an eternal family. We prayed with practiced fervor. We sang with affected joy. And we listened attentively to the shining jewels that the church had prepared in the Family Home Evening manual for our impressionable minds. For in our house, beneath the patriarchal authority of our maniacally fanatic father, the slightest hint of insincerity in a prayer, a dubious tone of voice in parroting the answers to cliché questions, or even the wrong facial expression more often than not brought about a violent reprimand f
rom our patriarch, usually in the form of a vicious whipping with a leather belt. The weekly victim usually had to follow up his or her beating with a heartfelt solo rendition of some upbeat saccharine tune from the “We Sing” piano book, and may God, Jesus, and the Holy Goddamn Ghost help the miserable bastard if he or she sniffled while doing it.
“Families are forever”, we would sing. Oh, the bitter irony!
Freedom of choice, the Free Agency that I often heard spoken of in church, remained an alien concept to me all the while I was growing up. For me to act in any manner other than that commanded by Church representative’s great or small would bring an immediate negative sanction ranging from a self-righteous scathing by the neighbor lady to a full-scale beating by my impassioned father. One simply did what one was told to do - to do otherwise was to invite a greater misery upon oneself. Being a strong-willed individual by nature, I often found myself on the wrong side of the machine. One so inclined to rebellion as myself, often rebelled. But for the most part, it was just so much easier to conform than kick against the pricks - less fuss, less pain.
So I performed my priesthood duties as expected by the Salt Lake Club with the occasional collision with authority one might expect from a teen-age boy. I went through the motions, mouthed the right words, and snapped to with all of the right answers, but I never believed all of it completely. It was much like a child who suspects duplicity in the true nature of Santa Claus but can’t completely abandon the notion that there just might be something to Ol’Saint Nick and his kingdom in the North Pole.
My father was a language teacher at the high school. I learned from a young age that substandard academic performance equated to physical pain. He once bloodied my nose and very nearly broke my jaw for receiving a “B” on one of my report cards in middle school. My elder sisters had both been valedictorians of the high school, and by all that was holy I would be too! For him, show was everything. Everything one did in life was for the consideration and approval of one’s social peers - one’s Church peers. He went to great lengths to make sure his family appeared to be the perfect model of Mormon success. This concept more than any other is what sums up the true nature of the Morg; everything is done with smoke and mirrors. Everybody wears the same uniform smile, but despair is usually just beneath the surface.
“Oh, hi, Sister Larsen! Let’s talk about making Jell-O with carrots in it so we don’t have to think about that fact that we are soulless automatons.”
My neighbor once unjustly accused me of vandalizing the Christmas decorations on his lawn. He brought the case to my father’s attention. His evidence was that he thought I had done it. This was sufficient for my father. He directed me to go and apologize for my crime and to pay reparations to this kindly man of God. I knew that it was futile to try and offer a defense – just more pain and condemnation. I acquiesced, bought the man some new Christmas lights, told him I was sorry, and believed the incident was closed.
The stake president called me the same day. He told me I would be giving a talk in stake conference the next week. The subject of my talk would be ‘Vandalism in Our Community’. He followed up his telephoned demand with a personal visit several days later. I was trapped. There was no conceivable way out of this one for me. I bit the bullet, stood up in front of the entire stake, and uttered a most humiliating discourse to the barely-disguised delight of the brethren.
(It should not be presumed that I always took it lying down. I bided my time, waiting nearly six months for my revenge so as to minimize any suspicion that might fall my way. I was a very capable maker of bombs and other incendiary devices. I choose for Stake conference a ten-pound smoke bomb, that when placed in the air duct beneath the chapel and ignited by my very willing Catholic associate managed to clear the Stake center for over two hours while the fire department tried to figure out the source of the billowing yellow sulfurous clouds.)
Whatever defense mechanisms nature provided me with in the battle for survival of the fittest, the LDS church very adeptly disarmed me of. Hell is truly the absence of reason. My life in the Mormon Church was nothing short of hellish torment. It is impossible for me to equate with mere words the degree of distress I experienced as a teenager. I hated my very existence. At last, I reached a point where I decided to kill myself.
My age was 17, and death actually seemed like a very pleasant direction to take. I didn’t really sit and brood about it for months. I just decided one afternoon that it was time to put an end to the comedy. I was loading my Colt .45 when my baby sister came in my room to ask me something. The guilt of leaving my brothers and sisters with this kind of emotional baggage prevented me from following through. I am certain that if not for the interruption my story would have been just another short parable in Mormon lore of another wayward youth led to his tragic demise by Satan. This was a major turning point in my life.
There is an overwhelming sense of freedom one finds when all will to live has been surrendered completely to the notion of death. With this freedom came an empowerment that I could not have imagined before. I found that when I no longer feared death, I no longer feared anything. My unfaltering patience for Church-sponsored meddling in my happiness had reached an end.
My father must have also learned a lesson about the same time. His lesson was something like: ‘You can only kick a dog so long before it bites back.’
The forum was Family Home Evening. I felt inclined to break up the weekly monotony with a bit of humor. My answers to the trite questions became increasingly sarcastic and facetious. I ignored my father’s threatening scowl. He directed to me what I am sure he deemed a wise and castigating question.
His Question: “Why do you think the lord has commanded us to have Family Home Evening?”
My Answer: “Refreshments.”
My father came off of the sofa as if he had sat on a porcupine. In his rush to senseless violence, he failed to calculate that years of milking cows and hauling hay had made me a very solid boy. And I would never take another beating by anyone. There in our living room, in the midst of Family Home Evening, I commenced to give him the thrashing of his life. I pounded him relentlessly until my mother found the strength of will to pull him to safety. All the while, my brothers and sisters just sat reverently in their chairs, observing the spectacle.
When my father gathered enough breath, he tried to shout some authoritative denouncement at me. Unfortunately for him he had yet to recover from his bewilderment and outrage. He said something like, “In the name of Jesus Christ…the holy…mmm…priesthood…I…you dirty little bastard!”
That night we didn’t have to sing ‘Families Are Forever’. It worked for me.
My father didn’t speak to me for an entire year. If he had anything to communicate to me, he always did it through a third party, even if I was in the same room. I became a pariah in my house and in my town as well. I grew my hair long. I started smoking pot. And still I went to church, and for the most part continued to do what I was told. The power that early conditioning has on the human mind is amazing.
Even in the naivety of my youth, a prime source of doubt in the validity of Joe Smith’s scam, before I ever had any solid proof against it, was the way everybody in the church was always bearing their testimonies to each other. Even as a naïve hayseed from Idaho, this behavior seemed suspicious to me. If something is true, what is the point of reiterating what everybody already knows…unless there is doubt? “I know this Church is true. I know that Joe Smith was a profiteer of God. I know that there are leprechauns on the moon.” Though it now seems to me merely pathetic that these poor souls are too blind to see that they perpetuate their own delusions by reinforcing the delusions of others, and vice versa. But when I was caught up in the delusion myself, it was a cause for great consternation. Mortal existence is confusing enough as it is for the average human being; trying to determine what is real and what is illusory. It is nothing short of a nightmare to have everyone arou
nd you convoluting the issue of reality with dogmas and mysticism.
I recall a story related in Sacrament meeting one fine Idaho afternoon by one of the respected members of the priesthood of God. In short, it was about an upstanding Mormon priesthood bearer fighting the evil Communists during the Korean Conflict. He was allegedly shot in the chest by an enemy rifle, but his garments prevented the bullet from penetrating. Wow! Bulletproof underwear! I remember my feeling of incredulity to this day, just as clearly as I remember the looks of utter amazement on the faces of the faithful. I argued with my brother about it for weeks, but to this day I suspect he still believes it is true. This sort of absurdity should have no place in the beliefs of modern day humankind. Yet, there it was! Idiocy blooming brightly in the fertile minds of Zion!
“Go ahead, Bubba, shoot me right here in the chest! Go ahead! That deer rifle ain’t gonna pass through these here garments! Jus’ aim right fer the little mark over my titty.”
The problem with the subjective nature of human perception in regard to existence is that everybody can believe whatever they want to believe, and there is very little anyone can do to bring conformity to a more objective standard.
I never had a genuine testimony of the validity of the Mormon Church. I think because the concept was just a bit beyond my threshold for self-delusion. I just couldn’t make believe to that degree.
OUT OF THE PAN AND INTO THE FIRE
When I finished high school, I discovered to my dismay that I had reached a dead end. In the Mormon world, the conclusion of high school is the time for only one thing – a mission. To choose any other course is to swim against a very swift and unyielding social current. I wanted so badly to get out of Cache Valley. And there was always the lingering concern in my mind that perhaps I was wrong and they were right. After all, there were so many of them who thought the same way, and only one of me who opposed their views. I gave myself one more chance at redemption. I mustered my Primary courage. “A Mormon boy, a Mormon boy, I am a Mormon boy - A rough and rugged sort of chap; an honest Mormon boy!” I decided to go on a mission.
Suddenly, I was the golden boy again! The brothers and sisters of the Church were delighted to have me in their presence. I had always been their favorite Boy Scout and neighbor. “I always knew you would make the right choice. Everybody has to sow a few wild oats.”
The group demeanor changed so abruptly, I really didn’t know how to respond to my sudden popularity in the community. My notoriety had changed in the course of a few days to energetic pats on the back and zealous handshakes. Only once was there a momentary lapse in my non-pariah status. When they administered the language aptitude test to me, I was accused of somehow cheating. My bishop tried every tool in his inquisition kit to try and make me confess as to how I had cheated on the aptitude test, but couldn’t get me to roll over. I had to test again with the brethren hovering over me to proctor the examination. When the results of my second test exceeded those of the first, the clouds of condemnation cleared instantly and once again I was as godly as Moroni himself blowing his golden horn with all the pomp and circumstance he could muster. “We knew you were a sharp lad, you see, but we had to make sure.”
Meanwhile…somewhere in a secret tower in Salt Lake City, Spencer W. Kimball tossed some chicken bones onto a table, examined a possum’s entrails, looked into his crystal ball and proclaimed with a voice like the thunder of the ocean that I should serve in the Korea, Pusan mission. Nothing could have prevented me from going. I was chomping at the bit, ready to run as fast as I could. I am not sure whether I was more excited to ship off to some exotic land or just get the hell out of Preston, Idaho.
At least one hundred relatives saw me off to the MTC. There were people there whom I had never seen in my life, basking in the glory, perhaps harboring secret hopes that some of the blessings would rub off on them. I am not a chemist, but I am sure that my father’s head filled with helium or some other lighter than air element that day. He seemed overwhelmed by utter joy in reaping the fruits of his unwavering guidance. His son was going on a mission! Two years of celebrity status in the ward! Blessings bubbling out of his bowels in heaven! Whewhoo!
The Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah is a very efficient operation designed to strip away the last remnants of personal identity in the trainees, indoctrinate the trainees in salesmanship and unquestioning obedience to authority, and teach the maximum degree of a foreign language in the shortest amount of time humanly possible. Even the United States Armed Forces have done careful studies of the MTC to apply some of the structure and technique to their own programs including the Defense Language Institute Language Center at Lackland AFB in Texas.
In the MTC, the leaders speak and the missionaries obey. The fear of being sent home for failure to conform to the autocratic template is one that only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate. I have heard more than one young elder (did you catch the oxymoron there?) state that he would rather die than get sent home. I saw one young man, who when threatened by his branch president with the ultimate punishment of being sent home, turned pale, fainted, and had to be hospitalized for shock.
For my part, I relied on the distraction and challenge of language learning and the camaraderie of my fellow elders to endure the big-brother regulation of everything - including what one could and should think. I think this time was the closest I ever came to really believing in the Church. The purpose seemed so clear, the goals so well defined. There were positive slogans being slung about everywhere. There were youthful ambitious boys all around me nearly bursting at the seams with enthusiasm. We crammed our brains with Korean language, Holy Scriptures, and the rules and regulations of missionary life. Then we were off!
I must confess the two years I spent in Korea from 1980 to 1982 turned out to be a stimulating adventure. Not withstanding the fact that I was there to sell my quota of dogmas, I still managed to have a pretty fun time. Exotic culture, food, language, martial arts, and Korea’s truly strange ways added up to an overall positive experience. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what those prime years might have been like had I not been shackled with outdated Mormon morality and narrow-mindedness.
>From a purely statistical point of view, I was very successful as a missionary. My disobedient nature and refusal to brown-nose those in positions of authority precluded me from ever ascending to a leadership position, but my combination of charisma and effective sales technique proved more than a match for many a poor soul. I baptized 73 people. (For many years, this has been a source of considerable guilt for me.)
Half-way into his mission, my ex-MTC companion, David Martin from Southern California, a convert to the church, went into the mission president’s office, casually tossed his scriptures into the garbage, and asked for his passport so he could go home.
(If you ever read this, Elder Martin, I worship you as a god for the example you set for me. Please contact me: email@example.com)
Elder Martin’s departure awakened my mind to many questions and doubts repressed therein. Here was a carbon copy of me doing exactly what I wanted to do. The difference was that he could go home to non-mo parents and say, “Oops, I made a mistake.” I was trapped for the full ride, and I knew it. I bit the bullet. I immersed myself in martial arts and the Korean Language, and kept the baptism numbers up to keep the AP dogs off my back. But I was certain it was all a lie. There were numerous times when my investigators presented me with sound arguments against joining Mormonism or any religion, only to have me out-debate them and then charm them into acquiescence with my silver tongue. I sincerely hope I did not cause irreparable damage to any of these misfortunate individuals.
I despised my mission president. He was a petty little dictator who thoroughly enjoyed his power, and utilized it to the fullest. He was a self-indulging, self-righteous ass clown, who rewarded those who flattered him and groveled before his position, and sanctioned without mercy those who had the self-respect to seek dignity. To this day, I despise the megalomaniac, but I am grateful to him for driving the final wedge between me and the Mormon Church.
Two weeks before I concluded my mission, I met the cutest little Korean girl I had seen in the entire two years I had been in country. We were attracted to each other like…umm…like a boy with raging hormones to a girl with raging hormones. We were totally innocent in our brief interaction. There was no mushy romance, no scandalous improprieties. We just exchanged mailing addresses so that I could send her the papers from the Department of Immigration as soon as I got back to the USA. As soon as I returned to Idaho and got my tickertape parade out of the way, I was filing for her visa.
When word reached my ex-mission president Pak that I was going to marry a newly baptized member of his flock. One might have thought I was intending on starting my own concentration camp and torture chamber for babies and bunny rabbits by the reaction this little Nazi had to my proposed marriage to a Korean national. We were forced to have multiple interviews with the Bishop, Stake President, and we got wind of a valiant but unsuccessful attempt on Pak’s part to have a General Authority intervene to stop this transgression of all that was good in the world.
Not withstanding all my ex-pres’ efforts to ruin my life, I got married in the Logan temple. The night before the big day, the fool called my wife-to-be and made lots of scary threats and basically ordered her by the authority vested in him by the Milky Dick Priesthood and the South City Bowling League not to get married. He predicted that if we went through with it we would end in disaster before a years’ time had passed. (Bite my bum bum, Pak Byung Kyu! We are still married - 21 years now.)
When my wife first saw Mormon magic underwear, her facial expression literally did not dissipate for several weeks. She was horrified by the absurdity. (She still gets the funniest look of disgust on her face whenever the subject happens to come up.)
One week after we were married, I joined the Air Force and we were soon off to a four year hitch in Germany. At long last I was free from the clutches of Joe’s cult. The first week after my wife arrived in Germany, she declared to me that she wasn’t going to wear that stupid underwear anymore. Not only did I offer no rejections to her great apostasy, without hesitation I stripped my garment top off of myself and threw it into the garbage, smiled and assured her that I wasn’t going to wear it either.
For at least ten more years my parents continued to send us garments as birthday gifts, which I found made very good rags for the garage.
No more orders from anal-retentive old men in Salt Lake City! No more fantasies about gods and devils! I had no more need of mindless fools telling me how to find happiness. I had no need of mythology to make my life and inevitable death more bearable. I was free at last from the dogma bog!
Though from time to time I have engaged in academic discussion about the fallacies of Mormonism, it really hasn’t been an important topic for consideration in my post-mo life. I already wasted too much of my life with Joe’s scam. I have simply tried to enjoy the freedom I have in my remaining life.
Six of my siblings have also freed themselves from the lie. Three remain controlled; one of whom resides from time to time in an institute for mental health. Two of my sisters have disappeared altogether, choosing total insulation from their former lives.
I recently returned from a trip through Utah and Idaho. I announced my planned visit in advance so that those of my relatives and past acquaintances who wished to avoid me might have a chance to formulate a good excuse for missing me. In my childhood home I was tolerated, but there was an underlying uneasiness that only lifted when I began loading my suitcase into the car to leave. My mother for the most part avoided the topic of religion with me, knowing from past experience that I had the sharper tongue and the sharper wit. But I could detect her true thoughts just beneath the surface of her extraneous conversation. It seems that she has finally given up trying to convert me.
My father, now a mellow and decrepit old man, was genuinely pleased to see me. He made no attempt to proselytize while I was there. The closest he came to it was when he brought out his Books of Mormon and Bibles in various languages and solicited me to read passages from some of them, under the pretext of testing my lingual abilities. He smiled, delighted to hear me read the Lord’s Prayer in any language. For a moment, he was proud again of his golden boy, but I could see in his sad eyes that his pride was undermined by the aching recognition that he had failed in his calling as my patriarch. Perhaps, somewhere in the recesses of his logical brain, there lingered a doubt that perhaps families are not forever and that his family was not even temporal.
I want my time back. I want my money back. I want my misspent youth. I want my family. But I will settle for the moderate solace that it brings me in knowing that by making this brief account of my experience with the Mormon Church available to others, I might help some unwitting soul avoid becoming another victim of Joe Smith’s lie.
Solace thy thirst in wisdom.
Succor thy mind in learning,
For riches of knowledge yearning.
Let truth be thy only kingdom.
- Daniel F Mitchell
City: Los Angeles
Became a Christian: Birth
Ceased being a Christian: 22
Labels now: Agnostic
Why I left: Tired of dogmas