Religious Darkness

I grew up under a rock. Seriously.

As a Mormon, there are so many rules that you have to follow that are strict to say the least and unreasonable at best. No coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, immodest clothing (which includes shorts or skirts above the knee, any sleeveless shirt, or even jeans that are just a little too snug), swearing… The list of Can’ts goes on and on.

I was in second grade before I even knew that there were churches other than mine. (Even though we drove past a Catholic church every week on the way home from Sunday meetings…probably my earliest case of cognitive dissonance.) As part of a lesson, my teacher asked how many of us went to church. I was surprised to see that nearly the whole class raised their hands. How could they go to church? They all acted so differently! I told my mom about it when I got home, and she told me that there are many religions other than ours.

I’m still not sure why this was such a surprise to me. Hadn’t the Joseph Smith story been drilled into my head since I was old enough to talk? For those unfamiliar with that bit of Mormon history, when Smith was fourteen years old, he couldn’t decide which church to attend as they all said all the others were wrong, so he went to the woods and prayed about it. This is when the “First Vision” (as it’s known in the Church) occurred and God and Jesus appeared to him.

Our media consumption while growing up was tightly regulated. It was easy for shows to get on the banned list. A few of those included Married With Children and Friends, for example. It wasn’t limited there. Even cartoons such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Disney’s Darkwing Duck were off limits. We would never go to any movies rated above PG, and once we started developing our own musical tastes, the songs on the radio were closely censored as well.

Given that, it’s no surprise that in junior high, my parents kept us out of the Sex Ed classes at our respective schools. In our Church, a subject doesn’t get any more taboo than sex. I never got “The Talk” from my parents, so everything I knew about it was what I gleaned from other kids’ conversations. To this day, I don’t know if mine was a unique experience where that goes, or if it was fairly typical. I suspect it’s the latter.

Given the Church’s prudish nature, it’s no surprise that a great deal of the lessons directed to the youth were for the “Law of Chastity” and “Temple Marriage.” All the talks about chastity were things you can’t do. (That seems to be a reoccurring theme here.) No sex before marriage. No necking or petting. No excessive kissing. I even got the impression that holding hands was too much of a show of intimacy that it was unacceptable unless you were seriously dating someone. Of course, exclusive dating was frowned upon unless you were already back from your mission and looking for a spouse. I even got the impression that there were/are sexual acts that are forbidden even after marriage, but, of course, no one talks about it.

Starting at age twelve, the boys and girls are split up into separate Sunday school classes: Young Men and Young Women. At fourteen we could go to church dances, which were held once a month in the church gymnasium. At sixteen we were allowed to date. Group dates were encouraged, as they didn’t want us to be subject to temptations by being alone with the opposite sex. I never had that problem, because I was so quiet, mousy, awkward, and homely that I was never noticed. In fact, I didn’t go on my first date until just before my seventeenth birthday.

I never misbehaved in high school or college, as the Mormon was so deeply ingrained in me, with a good dose of spiritual and parental fear to back up my need to remain “good.” The Church is very patriarchal and though my father wasn’t big and mean, his word was law. The fear of disappointing him still motivates me, though I see more and more that it’s an inevitable thing. As I break free the confines of the Mormon mindset and starting thinking about what constitutes the truth on my own, I am bound to let him down as I move away from the beliefs that he holds dear.

I can only hope that when I am able to come to grips with my new realities, that they will still accept me and my choices.


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6 thoughts on “Religious Darkness

  1. Oh, my. You would have made the Catholic nuns and priests sooo happy. That was our teaching, too, although few of us followed it. In highschool we were given ‘the talk” in Confraternity (which was the catholic version of bible study for teens, minus the bible) by an extremely angry and unhappy nun. (I suspect the parish priest had started insisting that we needed to know these things) The sum total of her talk was, “if you are ever on a train, make sure you get a private compartment and never let strange women into it.” We were fascinated. and embarrassed for her. Afterwards someone said, “if we could only find a train…”

    But oh yes, group dates were encouraged for exactly the same reasons (although this was the early sixties, so you folks were a bit later than that.). Girls were encouraged to join the Sodality and had to vow to basically remain pure and virginal until marriage, no ‘occasions of sin” or anything else. Cleavage was out. Short skirts (above the knee), tight sweaters, on and on and on.,..you were raised Catholic and never even knew it. =)

    Our only TV restrictions were not to watch magic shows and not to listen to Billy Graham. lol. Took me years to understand why we werent supposed to watch magic acts, since the Bible is full of them, from group hypnosis to sleight of hand…

    You may get a few surprises along the way, as to how people react to your beliefs, don’t be surprised if you get a great deal of hostility from family and friends. But I applaud your effort. It’s not easy to move away from something that deeply ingrained.

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    1. It certainly isn’t. I’m in my 30’s and still have trouble communicating any of this to my parents. My sisters are on their own spiritual journeys and they know how uncertain I am of the whole picture, but they’ve been nothing but supportive.

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  2. No matter what happens, you’re not alone. We’re always here for you, and we accept you for who you are.

    Being sheltered in such containment makes a lot of people believe that it will lead to pure and chaste existences, but it only prevents the information from getting through. It’s why the states that teach abstinence-only end up with the highest teen pregnancy rates.

    I didn’t grow up Mormon, or religious, so I can’t completely empathize, but I know what it’s like to feel that the world has been kept from you. It can be sensory overload when the world is revealed to not be what you thought it was. Take it in, one day at a time. You’re getting there, and I’m always here to talk if you need it.

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    1. There’s still so much that I feel I was shorted, especially when it comes to certain subjects in my education, but that’s for a later post. I’ve picked up several books to remedy that, but it’ll be a slow process as I’ve got limited time to read and a book to write next month!

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  3. I just understood why Mormons are Republicans – Mormons are the church of CAN’T and Republicans are the party of “NO.” What I say is don’t let you parents being disappointed rule your life. Love them, certainly, and remind them of your love. However, don’t allow them to harm you any longer. They believe they are doing the right thing. You should believe enough in yourself to understand you are doing the right thing for you. That is healthy.

    As for sex ed, it wasn’t available in my school. We had health class. Most of what we all learn is from either friends or books or both. We are all so alike in so many ways.

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    1. My wedding was unconventional enough that I stressed for months about how my parents would react to it, but in the end I knew that it was my wedding and we were having the ceremony that my husband and I wanted. (Dad certainly did not look happy, but he sat quietly, which was the best I could hope for.) With that experience in my belt, I won’t let them keep me from my path of discovery. But I’m not sure that I’ll be giving them the details, either.

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