This is likely to be a long post, so strap yourselves in for a while. I am currently reading The Misanthrope by Molière. I have read it before, but has been quite a while since I last read it, and I had forgotten about a monologue I like which somehow seems apropos. In case you aren’t familiar with The Misanthrope, I’ll set up the scene for you. It is a scene between two women who are supposedly friends, Arsinoé and Célimène. Arsinoé has a reputation for being pious and righteous, but Célimène knows that in fact Arsinoé is self-righteous, hypocritical, and somewhat vicious in her judgment of the other people. At the beginning of the scene Arsinoé berates Célimène in a supposedly kind and concerned manner for her (Célimène’s) faults. Célimène responds to this attack on her character in an equally sweet manner with the following monologue:
Madam, I haven’t taken you amiss;
I’m very much obliged to you for this;
And I’ll at once discharge the obligation
By telling you about your reputation.
You’ve been so friendly as to let me know
What certain people say of me, and so
I mean to follow your benign example
By offering you a somewhat similar sample.
The other day, I went to an affair
And found some most distinguished people there
Discussing piety, both false and true.
The conversation soon came round to you.
Alas! Your prudery and bustling zeal
Appeared to have a very slight appeal.
Your affectation of a grave demeanor,
Your endless talk of virtue and of honor,
The aptitude of your suspicious mind
For finding sin where there is none to find,
Your towering self-esteem, that pitying face
With which you contemplate the human race,
Your sermonizing and your sharp aspersions
On people’s pure and innocent diversions--
All these were mentioned, Madam, and, in fact,
Were roundly and concertedly attacked.
“What good,” they said, “are all these outward shows,
When everything belies her pious pose?
She prays incessantly; but then, they say,
She beats her maids and cheats them of their pay;
She shows her zeal in every holy place,
But still she’s vain enough to paint her face;
She holds that naked statues are immoral,
But with a naked man she’d have no quarrel.”
Of course, I said to everybody there
That they were being viciously unfair;
But still they were disposed to criticize you
And all agreed that someone should advise you
To leave the morals of the world alone,
And worry rather more about your own.
They felt that one’s self-knowledge should be great
Before one thinks of setting others straight;
That one should learn the art of living well
Before one threatens other men with hell,
And that the Church is best equipped, no doubt,
To guide our souls and root our vices out.
Madam, you’re too intelligent, I’m sure,
To think my motives anything but pure
In offering you this counsel--which I do
Out of a zealous interest in you.
It’s always bothered me that people use religion as an excuse to attack and judge other people, especially when the fact is, we are all human beings, and none of us is without sin, so who are any of us to judge anybody else? I figure I have enough problems of my own; I’ll leave the judging to God. I’m reminded of the stories in The Book of Mormon of the Zoramites who felt they were so pious, but were actually prideful, materialistic, and self-righteous; or the Pharisees in the New Testament who were so proud of themselves for so strictly following the commandments of God when in fact they were complete hypocrites. There are stories in all books of scripture of members of the church who are so busy judging and condemning others that they have lost sight of what religion is all about (and, of course, I’m primarily talking about Christian religions here). From my reading, Jesus Christ was very non-judgmental, compassionate, merciful, and full of love and charity, and when I read or hear about people using Christianity as a device of hate and judgment and condemnation, it really disturbs me because I don’t think that’s what Christianity is all about.
But I do think we’re all guilty of judging to some extent. I mean, that seems to be human nature. But I really do try to look for the good in people and not judge them because just as no one fully knows what it’s like to be in my shoes, I can’t fully comprehend what’s it’s like to be in anybody else’s. We all come from different backgrounds and different situations, and I think God will judge us based on our hearts even if we screw up from time to time. Heavenly Father knows we’re imperfect; that’s why we needed the Atonement of his perfect Son, because he knew we were human and would fall short.
I think so many people in many Christian religions, including mine, concentrate so much on the judgments of God that they forget how merciful he is, and I think that’s a huge thing to forget. But I do it, too, I know. There was a time in my life when I just felt guilty for every commandment I felt I wasn’t keeping and got down on myself because I wasn’t as perfect as I thought God expected me to be. Now, although I still do that to a much lesser extent, it has been made very clear to me that God loves me no matter what choices I make and that I’m supposed to make mistakes and allow myself to make them and learn from them. I mean, when I think about it, when I do things that disappoint my family, they may be disappointed, but that certainly doesn’t change their love for me, and if they, who are imperfect, can still love me in spite of my mistakes and frailties, then surely God, who is perfect, loves me no matter what, with an even deeper and more profound love than I can understand. And if friends and family members can forgive me for dumb mistakes, then surely God, who is perfect and has commanded all men to forgive, can forgive me for any wrongs I do.
I love my religion. I really do. And I believe my church, itself, is built on wonderful principles. But it is also filled with imperfect human beings, like myself, who don’t always do the right thing. All religions are that way, I suppose. In the last year or so I have become a bit disillusioned with organized religion. I don’t know that one has to attend a specific church to have a good relationship with God, and when I see some of the hypocrisy that comes out of certain religions, it disheartens me. I’ve known some atheists and homosexuals that are better Christians than some of the “Christians” I know. And these self-professed “Christians” are so busy attacking gay people and atheists and abortionists and what-have-you that I think they’re missing the point.
I see people like Gayle Ruzika, Chris Buttars, Dell Schanze (if you’re Utahn you’ll know who I’m talking about), Pat Robertson, Dr. Laura, etc. spewing ignorant nonsense, often in the name of Christianity; I see the double-standard of canceling showings of Brokeback Mountain or Transamerica while showing a violent piece of garbage like Hostel; I see local and federal legislators working on so-called “message bills” that would disban gay-straight alliances in schools or prevent gay couples from marrying or disallow the teaching of any sex-education but abstinence when there are big problems like health care or education or government corruption and mismanagement to deal with; I see people applauding a president for caring about the sanctity of life when thousands of people are dying because of mismanaged, unmerited war; I see Protestants and Catholics fighting, Jews and Muslims fighting; fundamentalists flying into buildings and killing thousands of people; religious leaders spewing messages of hate, and all in the name of God. It’s disheartening to me.
But, on the other hand, I see so much good in organized religion. I see people helping others, doing acts of service, being there for one another, trying the best they can to live good lives. But I don’t know that one necessarily needs organized religion to do that. That’s just people doing good. Still, I do like the fellowship that comes with organized religion.
For example, I like my ward (kind of like a parish, for those of you who don’t know Mormon terminology) very much. It’s actually one of the best wards I’ve ever been to. The people there are so kind and friendly, and I truly feel like they care about me and are concerned for me in a very genuine way. And my ward back home in Salt Lake City is terrific, too. And I enjoy being with people who share my faith and values.
There’s rarely any Sunday that passes by where I don’t have several ward members ask me how I’m doing or what I’m up to. Most of them call me by name, and I don’t always know who they even are or how they know my name. And they seem genuinely interested and concerned; it doesn’t feel like they’re doing it out of obligation (like I’ve experienced in other wards). My bishop shook my hand today and asked me how I was doing and what I was up to. It’s been a month since I’ve even been to church, and here’s this man being completely loving and genuine. I told him I was good, which is true. He asked if I was keeping busy, and I said yes, and he said that was good, it would keep me out of trouble. He just meant it as a joke, but I thought, “If he only knew the dilemma I’m in right now.” Then a guy from the singles group asked me if I was interested in joining them for a singles event. Fortunately, I won’t be able to because of school commitments (I’m kind of done with church singles activities). A woman asked me how school was going and said her daughter had seen my most recent show and enjoyed it We talked for a bit. I had a bunch of people shake my hand or just say hi. I enjoy that feeling of really being cared about by your fellow ward members. Would it were that way in all wards.
At the same time, though, I don’t always fit in. For example, I was in my ward today looking at my home teacher and his wife and their two kids or the couple in front of me with their three children, and I just thought, “That isn’t in my future.” I love kids very much, but I like them better if they’re somebody else’s. My religion is so big on temple marriage and family, and for much of my life those topics have just made me feel lonely and out of place because my religion’s idea of what makes a family is not necessarily the same as mine. When I would go to the temple (I haven’t been in almost two years), I would just feel out of place and lonely, and I would think, “Surely this isn’t what heaven is all about.” And sometimes when I go to church I just feel like I don’t always belong to the same flock. I often have more liberal view than some of my fellow Mormons (although I’m probably still quite conservative by the world’s standards), and sometimes I feel that what is in my heart (and I’m not just talking about homosexuality here) is not in complete line with what I’m being fed at church. Much of it is, of course, but there are other principles that just don't make sense to my heart. I'm not even saying they are wrong or right; they just don't always ring true.
But the irony is because of past experiences, I really do believe my church is the true church of God; I just feel I’m learning more and more that maybe I don’t have what it takes to live my religion fully, and that maybe that’s okay.
I was thinking yesterday about my relationship with Jonah, and how according to my religion, it’s “wrong.” I was walking on campus in such a happy mood because I thought to myself, “I’m in love. I have a boyfriend. I have somebody in my life that completes me (that sounds so gay (forgive the pun), but it was true).” But then there was the other part of me that just felt guilty. Not that Jonah and I have done anything wrong. But this relationship will not be sanctioned by my religion, and I have to figure out how to reconcile two entities I love very much. It’s a complicated road. In some ways, though, I feel the path I’ve been on was meant to go this way. I’ve always been kind of a half-hearted Mormon in some ways. I’ve believed in my religion, but haven’t always lived it as best as I could. And I also feel like I’ve tried very hard to do the things my church asked me to do, but my heart wasn’t always in it. And I feel like some of my greatest spiritual experiences didn’t come simply from my Mormon faith (although many have).
Jonah and I had a really good talk last night. We both declared our love for each other and even talked about how we really feel we’ve found a soul-mate in the other. We even talked about how we’d feel good being married to each other. I mean, we’ve essentially been dating for a year now (although we didn’t call it that) and have really gotten to know each other and have such a strong connection and friendship that I feel (as does he) that we’d be really good for each other. And if Jonah were a woman, it would be little problem for me to marry him in my church. But he’s not. And I now find myself questioning why it makes a difference. Why is it such a sin for two people of the same sex to love one another? It doesn’t make sense to me. It rarely has. And if God really does want me to live as my religion has asked me to, why does it seem so impossible and lonely to do so?
I was walking to the store yesterday, and I saw a homeless guy. It was quite chilly, and I tend to give money to the homeless. I was certainly cold, and he looked cold, and I proceeded to pull out all the spare change I had. It was only about a dollar fifty, and I apologized to him for not having very much, and he said, “Shit, man, you don’t have to be sorry. Every little bit helps. Thanks a lot.” He just seemed so grateful for my little pittance. It meant a lot to him. And as I left him, I cried, and I thought, “I’m a good person. I am. And so is Jonah. So where is the sin? We’re just two good people who love one another and want to be with another. What’s the big deal?”
I told Jonah last night, I just need time to process this all. This is all very new to me. Although I’ve dreamed about it, I’ve never actually allowed myself to act on my feelings for another man, and I’m still trying to figure out what this all means and what will bring me the greater happiness. Jonah, who also comes from a conservative Christian family, dealt with those issues long ago (although he still faces other challenges), so he understands what I'm going through, but doesn't feel guilty about our relationship the way I sometimes do. Fortunately, he’s very patient. But I can’t expect him to wait around forever while I make a decision, and frankly, I’m afraid if I wait too long, I might lose him, and that’s very troublesome. But Jonah understands my predicament (as best he can) and certainly doesn’t want me to rush into anything I’m not ready to rush into, so he’s willing to give me time. He’s been so good about it, and I really appreciate it. I’m just taking it one day at a time.
Now that Jonah knows about this blog, I catch myself wondering if I should censor any of my thoughts. But I’ve decided Jonah has always been very honest with me from the beginning, and I owe him the same courtesy. And since I’m not always as open as I would like to be, this is a good forum for complete honesty, I think.
I, unfortunately, have been having headaches lately. I know they’re due to stress because I rarely ever get headaches. I know Jonah will feel bad about that. He says over and over that he doesn’t want me to be stressed about all of this. It isn’t his fault. I just have a lot to think about and deal with. I’m just having a lot of conflicting feelings right now, and I’m sure it’s all just building up and giving me headaches.
You know, in the Mormon religion we’re taught that if we don’t live our lives they way we’re supposed to, we can’t be with our families in the eternities. We believe in three kingdoms, the Celestial (that’s where God lives and where we should be shooting for), the Terrestrial (Jesus rules that one), and the Telestial (the Holy Spirit governs that one). We’re told to strive to go to the Celestial Kingdom, but I’ve never really imagined that’s where I was going, nor did I feel I would be as happy going there as I would, say, the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is where I think most of the people I care about will end up and where I would probably be happiest. But from what I’ve read and heard in talks, all of the kingdoms are pretty good places to be. I’m paraphrasing this, but Joseph Smith (our first Latter-Day prophet) once said that if men knew how good the Telestial Kingdom (the lowest kingdom) was, they would kill themselves right now to be there. A modern-day apostle, Dallin H. Oaks, said in a talk, “The telestial kingdom…seems to me to be a precise description of the world’s concept of hell. The terrestrial kingdom seems to me to be a precise description of the world’s concept of heaven. The good people of the world will not be disappointed by the terrestrial kingdom. The bad people of the world will be utterly astonished to do as well as the telestial kingdom, for despite all of its relative drawbacks, it is a kingdom of glory reserved by a Father in Heaven who loves his children and ‘saves all the works of his hands.’” The fact that any of us are here on earth at all, according to the Mormon faith, already bodes well for us because we believe we chose to come here rather than follow Satan, so I feel our Father will reward us well and fairly based on our works. As for being with our families forever, I believe that anybody in the Celestial Kingdom can visit anybody in the lower kingdoms, and someone in the Terrestrial Kingdom can visit someone in the Telestial Kingdom, but not vice-versa. So I think if your family member ends up in a higher kingdom than you, that doesn’t mean you’ll never see them again. They can come visit you; you just can’t visit them. That’s not official Mormon doctrine; it’s just what I believe. And because I do believe I’m a good person, I believe I’ll end up where I will be happiest. God loves us all, and I think He wants all of us to be happy, and I feel like I’m learning every day that maybe my happiness lies more in my relationship with Jonah than it does with my church. That doesn’t mean I don’t still love my religion or that I don’t want to be involved in it anymore. Au contraire. But sometimes I feel like God is telling me that it’s okay to pursue this path with Jonah; that I have the free-agency to choose, and that the choice is mine to make, and that He will love me the same regardless. I may not receive all the rewards in the afterlife that He would like to give me, but I can still be very happy, both in this life and the next. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing. But it seems to me that in many ways, this path that Jonah and I are on together was intended and meant to be. I’m still working it out.
Sacrament Meeting was kind of dull today. In fact, one speaker prefaced his talk by saying that his wife thought he had been assigned one of the most boring topics ever. She wasn’t wrong; though, to his credit, he really did do his best to try and make it interesting. We had a great Sunday School lesson, on Joseph (of coat of many colors fame) which dealt a lot with trials and faith and forgiveness. I enjoyed it.
Last thought: I went and saw V for Vendetta last night with Jonah. I enjoyed it very much, though it disturbed me a bit because I felt some of the travesties portrayed in this movie’s future of 2020 weren’t terribly far from the possible truth of what might happen to us as a nation and world if we continue on the path some of us are on. But I thought it was worth seeing and certainly found it thought-provoking.
Well, if you’re still reading, my congratulations for sticking around. I told you it would be long.