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Why Argue with Mormons?

[I've recently had an interesting discussion with some pleasant Mormon folk and was up to my usual chicanery trying to loosen the death grip on Victorian era hysteria about masturbation. Not that these guys have stereotyped views, but still a psychology doctoral candidate would generally counsel abstinence from masturbation. 8O Anyway, the discussion elicited a response from me unrelated to masturbation that I thought I would adapt and expand here.]

I can’t fathom the need [of former Mormons] to rationalise to the n’th degree every minute point of church doctrine to justify to members (a) why you left and (b) why they are wrong.

I’ll take a shot an answering this for myself.

I’ve heard that many Mormons find the former Mormons they encounter litigious and combative. My guess is because many of us reasoned our way out of the church. Through weighing the evidence and the arguments, we went through an intellectual exercise that ended with our disbelief in the foundational claims of the church. On the other hand, Mormons come to their convictions through a process that is not rational in the sense of not strictly involving logic and reason. Something beyond reason is involved. I’m not denying that there is some irrational reasons that I have left the church or that there is no reason supporting Mormon beliefs; I’m characterizing the two processes broadly.

So when former Mormons want to justify their beliefs, they resort to logic and reason. This probably frustrates Mormons who don’t base their beliefs strictly on that basis. When current Mormons want to justify their beliefs, they go into “bearing testimony” mode which frustrates former Mormons. We usually talk past each other, but I am evidence that sometimes someone is listening to the other side.

When I debate with Mormons, whether on masturbation or some other topic, I do it for a number of reasons.

On the surface, it’s in the hope of persuading either the person I’m discussing with or the lurkers who read the discussion. Leaving Mormonism has been a positive change for me, so I want to share. I think this may be a relic of the missionary part of me that says that I am obligated to share what I see as the truth with others.

Below the surface, I think my views through and test them against the Mormon views I once held to make sure that my new worldview makes sense to me. It’s very important to me that my views are logically consistent, and discussions with people who don’t share my views helps me to see if their are weaknesses in my outlook on life. In other words, I’m justifying my departure to myself.

Sometimes, I am motivated by a need to refute a system of thought that I feel deceived me. I invested a lot in the church. It’s natural to feel hurt and betrayed when we decide that it isn’t everything that it claimed to be. I want to expose the lies in revenge.

Sometimes, as in the case masturbation, I am moved by compassion with those who suffer in shame and ignorance because of teachings and counsel they have received from their leaders. I want to help them find the light if I can.

In answer to the implied “Why can’t people who leave the church not leave it alone?”, I wish it were that simple. It’s not easy to flip a switch and stop concerning myself about something that had such totalitarian control over my life (control that I granted to it). Further, I still have Mormon family and friends. By virtue of those relationships, I can’t leave the church alone because it doesn’t leave me alone. It is still part of my life and the life of my loved ones, as much as I wish it wasn’t.

I remember all of the things that are said about ex-Mormons. I argue to prove those slanders wrong. (Angry arguments probably defeat this purpose.) I didn’t leave in order to sin or because I couldn’t hack it. I didn’t leave because I didn’t know enough about the gospel or because I was offended by someone. I left only when I became intellectually convinced that the claims of the church were in many cases false. I tried to reconcile myself to that and stay in the church, but ultimately I couldn’t stay in an institution that claimed to be fully true but that I believe to be partly false. Many of the harmful aspects of the church root themselves in the conceit that says that Mormonism is without blemish. Maybe one day I won’t care so much, but unconsciously, I want LDS members to understand the real reasons that I left instead of painting me to be morally or intellectually weak.

Also, when I see the church doing something that I find harmful, such as the church’s pushing of Proposition 8 in California, I feel morally bound to speak out against it. My familiarity with the church and its actions compel me to act as critic. Progress happens when people speak out against injustice and wrong. I want bear my fair share of the burden in making the world a better place. That includes ameliorating the harms that the LDS church does.

I think I’ve exhausted the reasons that I can think of why I have rationalized to and debated with church members about their beliefs. Does that help to understand?

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The Day I Wished I Was Dead

[This post is an imagined guest post on the Good in Bed blog. I just had to get this out of my head, so here it is. Some of what I say will only make sense if you keep that in mind.]

Part 1

I curled up under the sheets and earnestly prayed that I would die. I had never prayed more fervently. The thought of facing even one more day terrified me.

I had come home that night from spending time with my fiancée and absently turned on the television. A Frontline show about the pornography industry was on PBS. Before I knew what was happening, before I had a chance to change the channel, I saw familiar sights and heard familiar sounds. A yearning fire was lit inside my brain. I prayed for deliverance from my temptation. Perhaps my prayer wasn’t very sincere. The thing that I had battled against all of my youth drew me inexorably toward itself.

Thoughts of all that I stood to lose flashed through my mind. Chief among these was the temple marriage that was scheduled only weeks away. None of this mattered enough in that moment to dissuade me from succumbing to my addiction and masturbating.

Immediately afterward, a crushing weight of shame pressed down on my shoulders. What could I tell my fiancée? I was positive that she would cast me off. I didn’t want to face my bishop. I was certain that he would call off the marriage. I had no doubt that I was irredeemably lost. I didn’t want to face God. I felt that He should end my life because I had failed my test in life. I saw no reason to continue my miserable life. If ever I understood the scripture that said “mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb”, it was that horrible night. (Revelation 6:16)

I slept very little that night, and only fitfully. In the morning, I slowly worked up the courage to call the bishop and confess. I could hear the pain in his voice as he asked me to come to his office immediately. Later that day, I also confessed to my fiancée. To my great relief, she was ready to forgive me. After much discussion and prayer and with the bishop’s blessing, we still went on to be sealed in the temple.

Part 2

I am the happy husband of that forgiving young woman and the proud father of two beautiful, intelligent girls.

I enjoy my relationship with my wife, including our sexual relationship. However, some nights when I want to have sex, she is too tired or stressed from a day of corralling our girls. In general, I seem to be the more interested partner, at least at this point in our lives. This used to be hard for me. I would feel disappointed and rejected. I felt sexually thwarted. It was easy to feel resentful. I wasn’t very sympathetic.

Things have changed since then. When my hopes for sex with my wife aren’t in the cards, I may feel disappointed that I can’t be with my wife, but I sympathize with the reasons that she can’t be available to me at that moment and I take my sexual needs into my own hands. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

For various reasons, I have become convinced that masturbation is not a sin. For one thing, it is never mentioned in the Standard Works. Some think that the story of Onan was about masturbation. The truth is that he was struck down for failing to live up to his obligation to his new wife and her deceased former husband, his brother.

Secondly, I learned about the history of attitudes toward masturbation in and out of the church. It seems clear to me from what I have learned that the attitudes toward masturbation that I was taught were based on people’s opinions. These opinions originally came out of popular culture, not as a revelation from God. Please bear with me as I paint the picture.

1700s Masturbation is first erroneously connected to insanity and disease in popular and medical literature—anti-masturbation sentiments rise in response—homosexuality and pederasty are erroneously linked to masturbation—hysteria becomes widespread and leads to the popularization of male circumcision (which was previously only a religious rite) in an effort to curb masturbation

1830 Joseph Smith organizes the Church of Christ

1800s Smith remains publicly silent on masturbation leaving no record of any statements on the issue—Brigham Young is also silent on the issue of masturbation leaving no record of any statement on the issue—in the absence of official guidance, members of the church tend to go along with the baseless popular opinion of their day

1870–71 The subject of masturbation is addressed in meetings of the School of the Prophets by Apostles Daniel H. Wells and Lorenzo Snow and President George A. Smith, First Counselor in the First Presidency—polygamy is seen as a cure for masturbation by church leaders—Elder Wells echoed the common sentiment that masturbation would lead to insanity and an early death

1883 Masturbation lumped together with excessive marital coitus as a cause of disease in a meeting of the First Presidency

Late 1800s increased acceptance of the bacterial causes of disease undermines the idea that masturbation leads to disease

1920s and ’30s the Church’s response to masturbation changes to reflect the available evidence—masturbation shame linked with mental health concerns—official church manuals encouraged parental guidance rather than repression of masturbation—church warns against parental overreaction to masturbation

1940s the idea that masturbation leads to insanity fades from professional opinion and is soon all but forgotten in popular thought

1950s several church leaders publish opinions which encourage total abstinence from masturbation—church reverses previous moderate stance, the first time that church policy diverged from the common medical opinion of the day

1958 Elder Bruce R. McConkie publishes Mormon Doctrine with a statement that directly condemns the psychiatric opinion that masturbatory shame is a mental dysfunction thereby creating the impression of an authoritative denunciation of masturbation because of his position as an Apostle

1969 Elder Spencer W. Kimball (still just an Apostle at the time) writes The Miracle of Forgiveness which denounces masturbation and states that religious authority trumps any empirical evidence on the matter

1972 the American Medical Association declares masturbation to be normal behavior—Boy Scout manual is rewritten to affirm the normalcy of masturbation and its positive role in sexual development—25,000 copies of the manual are destroyed at the behest of the Catholic and Mormon churches—revised edition advises boys to counsel with parents and spiritual leaders regarding masturbation—Mormon health care professionals come under increased pressure to condemn masturbation in contravention of their professional oaths and standards

1976 the church distributes pamphlet To Young Men Only, a reprinting of an speech by Elder Boyd K. Packer in which he promoted his personal ideas about sexual physiology and desire which contradicted contemporary empirical medical evidence—the pamphlet promotes the erroneous idea that sexual desire would be almost absent during puberty if it were not incited, that masturbation causes sexual desire

1980s Elder Mark E. Petersen authored Steps in Overcoming Masturbation targeted to young, male missionaries—his pamphlet advocated harsh psychological control methods and aversion therapy techniques to control masturbation—Mormon psychiatrist Cantril Nielsen pays a large settlement in the wrongful death case of 16-year-old Kip Eliason whom he advised to follow his bishop’s counsel to abstain from masturbation in order to be worthy (contrary to the standards of his psychiatric profession)—Kip Eliason committed suicide due to overwhelming feelings of unworthiness while trying to abstain from masturbation—medical experts in the case confirmed that masturbation posed no risks to mental or physical health, but that attempted abstinence from masturbation had a documented history of suicidal risk

1990 LDS church publishes For the Strength of Youth pamphlet which continued to denounce masturbation as morally unclean

1994 Is Kissing Sinful?, a book by church member Grant Von Harrison, is published which promotes the extreme position that “If you allow yourself to become sexually aroused prior to marriage, you commit a moral sin”

1995 In a study of 103 married Mormon women (91% of whom attended church services weekly, 5% monthly), 43% reported that they masturbated currently, 54% when they were younger

2001 The church publishes a highly revised For the Strength of Youth which no longer mentions masturbation by name

2004 And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment by church member Laura M. Brotherson aims to counteract some of the sexual shame in popular LDS culture—she admits to suffering from psychosexual shame which caused marital dysfunction—she advises that masturbation is permissible when intended to promote marital health

Most of this timeline comes from Historical Development of New Masturbation Attitudes in Mormon Culture. I no longer feel guilt in connection with masturbation. I cannot tell you how much gratitude fills my heart for that. Based on my own experience, I must conclude that the guilt that I used to feel was misplaced. The guilt that made me long for death that night was a chimera that I had conjured in my own mind.

So now, the naturally differing levels of sexual desire between my wife and me are much less of a stress in our marriage. I think we’re both happier. Masturbation hasn’t distanced me from my wife. Quite the opposite is true. And as a bonus, regular masturbation/ejaculation helps prevent prostate cancer. :)

When I read some of the comments on this blog, it reminds me of me the way I used to be. It hurts me to think of the people who struggle with guilt about masturbation, the guilt my experience has taught me to believe is unnecessary and unhealthy. My addiction was created by that guilt. Now that the guilt is gone, so is my addiction. The guilt was my problem.

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Death By His Own Hand

Point of fact: circumcision only became popular in Christendom in the 1890s as a cure for masturbation which was thought to cause insanity and death and because the penis was thought to be germ-ridden. [1]

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Mormons on Masturbation

With all the discussion of masturbation and porn going on around Mormon related blogs, I thought I would share this gem from a comment on reddit:

I went to the doctor for a checkup the other day. He took one look at me and said “You have to quit masturbating”. I asked “why?”, he said “so I can do the checkup”.

Masturbation and pornography are almost guaranteed to generate lots of debate on the bloggernacle. It doesn’t help when yours truly blathers on. :)

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The Visitors’ Center

I want to spread the word about The Visitors’ Center, a blog with the tag line “celebrating Mormon sexuality”. It even includes a post about—you guessed it—masturbation.

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