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Journal Entries from 2006

[I recently came across some journal entries from 2006, shortly after the lightning struck and I had acknowledged to myself that I didn't believe in God. They open a window on my efforts to pick up the pieces and survey the new landscape. I'll post some of these entries as they are germane to this blog and may be of interest. More to come another day.]

April 1, 2006

I find that my new honesty to self has engendered a few consequences. My time here in life has become more dear. My heart has become more open. My passions more intense.

April 5, 2006

I have recently been experiencing a calm but profound change in perspective. The virtue of self-honesty has become increasingly apparent to me. I am now admitting to myself that I have never had a firm belief in God, the divinity of Jesus, the prophetic call of Joseph Smith, and so on. I have never experienced the power of the Holy Ghost as others seem to have done. I have always doubted.

Something held me back. Admitting that I was wrong or [deceived] threatened my tender ego. I was afraid of what it might mean if there were no God watching over us protectively. I held out the hope that I might someday feel that rebirth of spirit held out for the faithful.

That day of renewal never came. I remained the same person with all of the fears, shames, and troubles as I ever was. That changed sometime around when I took a yoga class at [the university]. I don’t remember now which came first, the class or the change, but a radical change began at about that time. I became more self-aware. My mind quieted. I shed some of my fears and began to see light for the first time in my life. That process has proceeded in fits and starts since that day.

Shame has begun to fall away, too. I allowed other men to dictate the workings of my conscience for too long. I have no other testimony for divine displeasure aside from the deranged, fearful state of my own mind. I see no evidence for a Fiendish tempter who delights in the destruction of men. The most I can say with any certainty is that evil arises in the hearts of men. Perhaps there is an evil influence out there, but it pales in my view when compared to the strength of the will of man. My worries about Satan [have] kept me in constant crisis since my childhood. Giving up belief in what appears to be a late creation of the Christian community has freed me from unnecessary guilt which weighs me down. I can go no further while looking back to Sodom.

I no longer take for granted that God exists. Some part of me still hopes that I am wrong, that this change is merely my divestiture of unworthy beliefs in order to be reborn, naked and infantile before God. I begin to feel some of my childlike newness return to me. I see with new eyes. I decide for myself what I hold to be true.

Some things other than hope are holding me back. The first nobler cause is that I have made vows and promises to my beloved Lacey. I fear that her heart would be broken if I revealed these innermost thoughts to her. Relatedly, I believe the Mormon faith to be excellent in teaching a man to find happiness and think critically. I want my children to be guided well, and don’t think they would find good guidance in the aimless secular world.

The other fear holding me back from a public avowal of my change of heart is my fear of how others would judge me. I politically hope to change my public positions slowly.

May God, if He exists and is favorably disposed toward me, guide me in this uncertain territory. If He doesn’t exist, may I find the faith and strength to follow the truth wherever it leads.

[It's interesting that I still felt like Mormonism encouraged critical thinking and happiness. If I'm fair, I believe that some aspects (e.g. clean living, frugality) may help some of us lead a happier life. I no longer believe that everyone will be happier on that path.]

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What do Mormons like more than Jello desserts?

We have further evidence that it is the red states (if you’ll forgive me for being so 2004) who are the biggest subscribers to porn. Utah tops the chart. As I’ve long said, being ashamed of sex really whets the appetite. :)

I’m being a little flippant here, but this statistic points to the sad truth that many of us live with unnecessary shame. Being ashamed of something that can be so beautiful and healthy as sex doesn’t help anyone.

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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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Hall of Shame

I pity the clients who see this therapist who runs frightened from sexually provocative media. Rather than teaching healing and transcendence of fear, he promotes the very same trembling attitudes that lead to addiction. His essay reminds me of the world of fear that I so narrowly escaped. I join Jesus’ skeptics in demanding “Physician, heal thyself”. (Luke 4:23)

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A Mutually Loving Impasse

Most religions implant psychological safeguards against apostasy, little emotional bombs of fear, guilt, shame and self-loathing that get triggered by the mere act of questioning. In religious orthodoxy, doubt is the domain of fools. It is the consequence of having hardened your heart like Pharaoh or resenting God’s power like Lucifer. Oh ye of little faith!

So says Valerie Tarico in response to Michael’s story of leaving Mormonism.

I must confess that even though I’ve made my peace with the idea that not everyone will see Mormonism the same way that I do, I still worry about my family’s future.

I attend sacrament meeting most weeks, and every time I do, the reasons that I left reinforce themselves to me. When I was Mormon, I assumed that anyone who attended church enough would eventually soften their heart to the truth. Every time a relative attended church who hadn’t been there in years, I imagined that they would realize what they had been missing and come back into the arms of the church. I enjoyed church, so I assumed that they had simply forgotten how good church was, and with a little reminder, they would remember and return to the faith.

Now I see the LDS church differently, and I finally understand that for some people, attending a Mormon church service only gives them more reason to stay away. It’s not a problem of forgetting; they object to Mormonism on principle. I never imagined as a Mormon that the words spoken the pulpit could be disturbing and repulsive.

As a Mormon, I thought that anyone who disagreed with the teachings of Mormonism was being deceived by Satan, that the antidote was to feel the joy of the Holy Spirit in church. I now see that is too simple. As I continue my life outside of Mormonism, I am generally happier though I have good days and bad. Mormon teachings give me no joy, so attending church services has no hope of persuading me to return—none that I can see.

So I understand why someone else might not find the same joy as I do in the ideals of freethought. The idea of doubting and not feeling certain about our beliefs is frightening for some, even though I revel in it because it feels authentic to the human condition.

I’ve seen both sides, and I see how unhealthy Mormonism (or any other fundamentalist, cultish group) can be. I don’t like the idea of my family being stuck there. I don’t like the idea of that separating us. I hope they can find their way out. I want them to wake up to the toxicity of Mormonism. They want me to wake up to the joys of Mormonism. We are at an impasse.

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