Happy Mother’s Day, everybody. I know not everyone loves this holiday, but if you do celebrate Mother’s Day, I hope it’s a nice one for you. I don’t mind Mother’s Day much anymore. My mom and I get along pretty well, and I’ve come to terms that I’m a “mom” to dogs. I don’t really think of my dogs as my kids, although they are kind of my babies. At least I don’t have to send them to college. 😉
I’m kidding about the last part. I think I would have enjoyed sending an adult child to college, even though it costs so much. On the other hand, it’s nice to be debt free… and not having to pay for student loans anymore.
Younger daughter sent us a couple of videos. In one, she talked about how so many people her age are forgoing motherhood. It’s very obvious that she loves being a mom, and she’s very good at the job. I admire her patience and dedication to being there for her children. It’s more than she got from her own mom.
Something surreal happened the other day. I was sitting here looking through old blog posts and I found one in which I mentioned Heather B. Armstrong (nee Hamilton), author of the very popular blog Dooce, and a couple of books. I was never a regular reader of Dooce myself, but I knew about Heather because she was an ex Mormon and had grown up in Bartlett, Tennessee (near Memphis), which is where Bill’s dad lived for years before he passed. I think it might have even been May 9th when I looked at that post, not realizing that I would be getting shocking news about her that very day.
On May 9th, it was announced that 47 year old Heather Armstrong had died by her own hand. She reportedly suffered from depression and alcoholism, which was likely made worse by the toxicity of the Internet. Her writing had enchanted and delighted millions of people. She was even dubbed “Queen of the Mommy Bloggers”, because she was a Mommy Blogger before it was “cool”. At a time when blogs were mostly for people to trade among friends and family members, Heather Armstrong made it a place where anyone could have a voice. Dooce.com took off, and soon, scores of people were reading Armstrong’s thoughts on living, loving, marriage, and motherhood.
But Dooce.com had also excited mean spirited people who harassed her on a site called GOMI (Get Off My Internets), an “anti-fan” blog launched in 2008 by New York based blogger, Alice Wright. I had never heard of GOMI before I read about Heather Armstrong’s suicide, but apparently, a very special class of haters hang out there. They make a habit of reading blogs and trashing the writers.
Aside from garden variety clinical depression and alcoholism, Armstrong also had very severe postpartum depression after she had her older daughter in 2003. It was so bad that she needed to be hospitalized. In 2009, Armstrong published a very well-received book called It Sucked and then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita. In spite of her experiences with postpartum depression, Armstrong had another daughter in 2010. Then she divorced her ex husband, Jon Armstrong. She was in another relationship with Pete Ashdown, a two-time Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Utah, at the time of her death.
Heather Armstrong had reportedly quit drinking for awhile before her death, but then relapsed into alcoholism. She continued to write, although her posts– which had been almost daily for years– became a lot less frequent. Some readers were unnerved by the content of her most recent posts, which revealed a downward spiral.
I think a lot of people were shocked and saddened by Armstrong’s suicide. Even though I wasn’t one of her fans, I had heard of Dooce, and realized its success was what a lot of bloggers strive for. Many aspiring writers looked up to Heather Armstrong as a role model, but I think other people just thought of her as a dependable friend. And now she’s gone, and people are left wondering what happened.
I read a few news articles about Heather Armstrong’s death. I was saddened to read that so many comments people left were either clueless or kind of mean. Heather Armstrong will never read those comments, but she was a mom, and her kids can read. Now, it’s Mother’s Day, and their mom is gone forever. For them, Mother’s Day may turn into a “day of infamy”. That’s a day in which a person remembers something awful every year.
Although Armstrong killed herself, I know that her action was caused by legitimate mental illnesses. Many people will say she was selfish to commit suicide, but those people might not understand that suicidal people are often not in their right minds. I write “often not” because sometimes people commit suicide for reasons other than depression. Clearly, in Armstrong’s case, her decision came as a result of deep, unrelenting psychological pain that wasn’t eased by medical treatment. Her death, while brought about by her own hand, was every bit as the result of an illness as a death due to a stroke, cancer, or heart disease is. It’s not like she didn’t try to get well, either. Heather’s depression was severe enough that she even underwent an experimental treatment involving being put into chemically induced comas for fifteen minute sessions. The treatment was supposed to mimic brain death, to see if it might cure extreme depression.
I have suffered from depression myself, and I know how it made me feel. There were times when I was tempted by suicide. But by the grace of God, I managed to resist those impulses. I doubt that my issues were ever as deep as Heather’s were… and although sometimes I get rude comments on my blog, I have never been harassed like she was. I don’t go looking for comments about me, or my blog, so if anyone is talking trash about me, I’m oblivious. But I suspect my blog is too boring for people on GOMI.
I was also never Mormon… and while I know that a lot of people find joy in Mormonism, I also know that a lot of people suffer despair because of it. Armstrong, who had once been a devout church member, left the religion, and reportedly suffered backlash from her family and friends. She poured her thoughts and feelings into her writing, and wound up being fired from her job in Los Angeles. At the time, it was probably awful for her… but then the blog took off, and she was soon earning millions from ad revenue, book sales, and product endorsements.
As a blogger myself, I wonder if maybe Dooce’s success was a source of terrible stress for Armstrong. I know that writing, for me, is kind of therapeutic. But when you become popular, you have to be much more careful about what you write. And when you make money from sponsors, you have to be even more careful, because businesses don’t want to be aligned with controversies or bad press. So then, that “therapy” kind of goes by the wayside, because as a writer, you can no longer be so free with what you express. I would imagine it also becomes harder to stay authentic and interesting.
My own blog used to be more popular. When I was writing it on Blogger and lived in Stuttgart, I shared it a lot more, and I had more readers. I eventually realized that I didn’t really want to be super popular, especially in a military community. Even years since I moved the blog to WordPress and kind of started over, I sometimes run into people who have never even read it, but had a negative opinion of it and me, just because of the name. I try to remember, though, that everyone who becomes popular has to deal with negative opinions and even haters. The most talented, likeable, and famous people in the world have haters.
Heather Armstrong obviously had mental health issues. Writing was a comfort for her… until it was used as a weapon. And now she has two daughters who no longer have their mother on Mother’s Day. I don’t blame Heather for what happened, because I know that the horrors of depression and alcoholism are real. But I do feel for her daughters, who have lost their mom forever. So, my thoughts are with them today, as I am reminded that for some people, Mother’s Day is difficult, at best. And for some, it really is a “day of infamy”.
Wherever Heather B. Armstrong is today, I hope she’s finally at peace. And I wish the most peace and comfort to her survivors, especially her daughters.
Bwahaahahahaha… Special thanks to RfM’s Elder Berry for inspiring today’s blog post title. Mr. Berry is a recovering ex Mormon, and he says that Mormonism is rife with “fake friends”. I have never been LDS myself, but I do know quite a few people who are either now or once were Mormons. And I am inclined to believe Elder Berry when he says that Mormonism “takes the cake in fake”. On the other hand, some of my favorite people are ex Mormons. I’ve found that they are often very brave people who have managed to hang on to some of the best attributes that come from church membership. They also often have good taste in music and books, mainly because they rejected the church and have bravely forged their own spiritual paths.
Some of you who don’t know me might wonder why I have an opinion, or even know the first thing about Mormonism, if I’ve never been LDS myself. Well, it’s mainly because my husband, Bill, was talked into joining the church when he was married to Ex. Ex decided one day that she liked the Mormon image and she wanted a piece of that. So she insisted that the family would be LDS. Bill went along with it. He fit right in, at first. He has the right look, and the right attitude. He’s kind, generous, and service oriented. He’s empathic. Those are attributes that are like fresh blood to narcissists and fake friends, looking to take advantage.
Mormonism, of course, turned out to be a monster of Ex’s making. Like just about everything else she does, she eventually dropped away from the church. However, younger daughter decided she likes the church, probably because some really decent people within it helped her escape her mother’s narcissistic clutches. And now, she is very much a Mormon– and a genuinely lovely person, much like her father, my husband Bill. Ex, on the other hand… well, she’s still “taking the cake in fake,” so to speak.
I give you her latest tweets:
Now… I want to make this statement up front. It IS true that Ex suffered horrific abuse that never should have happened. I don’t applaud the fact that she was abused, especially since she uses her abusive past as an excuse to abuse and exploit other people. And I have no doubt that somewhere, deep within her exploitative heart, she probably does have some empathy for other victims. But then I remember the many stories I have heard (and believe) and the actual scars she left on Bill. I listen to stories other people who know her have told. She says all the right things, but when it comes to her actual actions, it’s all a bunch of crap.
This is the same woman who, when Bill asked about his children, told my husband not to worry about his daughters, because they were going to grow up and become “awesome mothers”. Indeed, younger daughter IS an awesome mom, but it’s not because of her. Older daughter isn’t married and hasn’t had children, but she seems to be an “awesome mom” to her “severely autistic” younger brother, most of whose care she seems to deliver on behalf of their mother, who apparently spends a lot of her time posting platitudes about kindness to actors on Twitter.
This is the same woman who, when Bill was on his knees, crying and asking her if she didn’t think he was a good husband and father, coldly replied, “Maybe to another family you would be.”
This is the same woman who, after demanding a divorce in my husband’s father’s home over Easter, happily took all but a few hundred dollars a month of his paycheck and spent it on Disney plates and depression glass. Then, when he bought things he needed for his job, berated him for not sending more money to “his family”… with whom she would not let him have a relationship.
This is the same woman who told Bill’s daughters that he had an affair with me, and that was what caused their divorce. That, of course, is a lie… and fortunately, younger daughter doesn’t believe it, anyway. Especially since she actually saw her mother shacking up and having sex with #3 in the house that Bill was paying for… while she and Bill were still legally married. Meanwhile, Bill wore his old wedding band– a cheap gold plated piece of crap they bought at a thrift store– until the day their divorce was final. I didn’t even meet Bill in person until almost a year after the official “D day”, and we didn’t have sex for the first time until two weeks after our wedding. That, by the way, was also my first time having sex with anyone. I was 30 years old.
And Ex also told Bill’s parents and stepmother that he’s a violent, woman hating pervert who abused her. Not true. She was just trying to destroy Bill’s relationship with his own family so she could claim them as her own. I’ve been Bill’s wife for almost 20 years. He’s never so much as raised his voice to me.
When I think about all of these things… really, just scratching the surface of what Bill has been through, I can’t believe that HE wasn’t pushed to the brink. But when Ex found out that younger daughter was talking to her father again, she got very angry and told her that the divorce was very “painful for her”. He was the one living along in a cheap, sparsely furnished, drafty apartment in another state, in a bid to finally make enough money to support his family. She refused to let him do the work he is suited for and qualified to do, and when he wouldn’t let her have her way, she humiliated him in his own father’s home. She took most of the salary he worked hard for and squandered it. Then she separated him from his children, slandered him, and tried to replace him with her third husband. She left him unable to father children with me without medical help, and with both a bankruptcy and a foreclosure on his credit report. When he finally quit paying her, she stole from her own children by making them drop out of high school and take college courses, so she could skim off their student loans. And she calls me a homewrecker!
I know… ultimately, she did me a huge favor by misjudging Bill and dumping him. Because now, we live a harmonious life together, and we’re able to do most of what we want to do. I wish we could have had children. But, at least he has one daughter back, and she’s getting to know the man who was kept away from her for so many years. Meanwhile, her mother sits on Twitter, taking the cake in fake, trying to “chat” up actors. It’s no wonder she loves actors and authors… they create different– fake– pretend worlds for her, where she can be anyone she wants to be. It’s no wonder she fantasizes about her children becoming famous or marrying famous actors. She doesn’t have an appreciation for the genuine.
I am suddenly reminded of a story I heard years ago, about how Ex was proudly walking around with a fake Prada purse on her arm. I suppose it was a convincing knock off. I never saw the purse myself. I just heard from former stepson that she had bought the fake Prada and was so proud of it… because it had the label, and the supposed status that comes with the label. But it was fake, just like she is.
I am truly sorry for the abuse that Ex has suffered. No one should have to live with abuse. BUT… I wish she would stop and think about how her actions affect other people and stop excusing herself for being so awful to those unfortunate enough to be close to her. She prefers to chat up strangers instead of doing the hard work of maintaining real relationships. She’d rather maintain a cheap facade– like Saddam Hussein’s tacky golden mansions– than take the time to build solid, but plain, foundations that won’t fall apart at the slightest breeze.
Here’s a reposted book review from my original blog. It was written in June 2017, and appears here as/is.Some things have changed since I wrote this. Bill’s younger daughter came around, and now talks to him.
As many regular blog readers know, I frequently hang out on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard, although I have never myself been a Mormon. I started hanging out on that site because my husband, Bill, used to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and his ex wife were converts at the end of their disastrous marriage.
Bill was once a fairly enthusiastic Mormon; when I met him, he still claimed to believe. I think he had high hopes that the church would help him save his first marriage. But over time, it became clear that the church would not save his family and, in fact, made his situation much worse than it might have been. Unfortunately, Bill’s two daughters became devout members of the LDS church and he pretty much lost them when he divorced their mother and later decided to resign from the church.
It is certainly no secret that I despise my husband’s ex wife for many reasons– many of which have nothing to do with the LDS church. The truth is, what happened to Bill would have happened whether or not they had been Mormon converts. My husband’s ex wife delivered the same despicable treatment to her first ex husband. She effectively influenced her eldest son to reject his father. She did the same to Bill’s daughters. She will likely engage the same method if and when she leaves her third husband, with whom she has another son and daughter. That is simply what she does because she’s an abusive person, who thinks her children are extensions of herself, and uses them as weapons.
However, although I don’t believe the church was the main cause of my husband’s split from his now adult daughters, it’s been my observation that the LDS church is an excellent parental alienation tool. The importance of the church and its ridiculous lifestyle tenets– its insistence on being privy to the most private aspects of a person’s life and focus on perfect families– made it much easier for my husband’s young, impressionable daughters to reject their perfectly good dad as “unsuitable” and “undeserving” of them. To be honest, I agree that Bill doesn’t deserve his daughters. In my opinion, they aren’t good enough for HIM. Fortunately for them, Bill is a lot more forgiving about his daughters’ decision to reject him than I am. He once had a very close relationship with them. He is their father, and will always love them, while I have only met them in person once. I have no connection to them, and I think their behavior is unreasonable and just plain stupid.
Perhaps my brief rundown of my personal experiences with the church will offer some insight as to why I read so much about Mormonism– particularly about those who choose to abandon it. Since I’ve been with Bill, I have come to know a number of impressive ex-Mormons. It takes a lot of strength of character to go against the grain and reject one’s family religion, especially when it’s a very demanding belief system like Mormonism. I have found that many ex-Mormons are very intelligent, sensitive, and open-minded. I truly like them as a group of people. For that, as well as for her decision to divorce Bill, I will always be grateful to Bill’s ex wife. Her decision to go LDS and Bill’s decision to leave the church indirectly influenced my life in many positive ways. Of course, had she not divorced Bill, I might not have gotten to be his wife.
It’s indirectly because of my husband’s ex wife that I “met” Jessica Bradshaw, who just published You’re Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons. I read her first book, I’m (No Longer) a Mormon: A Confessional, which she wrote under the pseudonym Regina Samuelson. I enjoyed the book and reviewed it, and Bradshaw and I became Facebook friends. I was delighted when Bradshaw announced her second book, which would be published under her real name. She also solicited stories from her ex-Mormon friends and acquaintances. I wanted to get Bill to submit his story, but he never got around to writing it.
Over the past almost fifteen years of marriage, I have seen firsthand what can happen when a person decides to leave a high commitment religion like Mormonism. Some Mormon families truly believe in “free agency” and are okay with family members deciding for themselves what to believe. There are many more families that can make leaving the church extremely difficult. Some ex-Mormons wind up getting divorced, being shunned by family members and friends, and even losing their jobs or getting kicked out of college over deciding that Mormonism doesn’t work for them. Deciding to leave Mormonism was a huge decision for many past members; it can be overwhelming and terrifying. Many ex members feel that they are alone as they make this monumental decision for their own lives.
Bradshaw’s latest book is a compilation of stories by former church members who left. Each story is very well edited and offers valuable insight into what makes a person decide to leave Mormonism. I was amazed as I read about how each person’s eyes were opened to the world beyond the church. It was gratifying to read how many of these ex church members began to develop insight, empathy, and an expanded perspective of the world around them, even as many of them found themselves ostracized from their families and friends.
One contributor wrote about how, as a Mormon missionary in Japan, he experienced extreme cognitive dissonance. He observed how happy, moral, and loyal the Japanese people were to their families and employers. They were able to be this way even without the direction and interference of a church’s oppressive lifestyle restrictions or strict “moral” code. As the years passed, the contributor experienced a series of life events that led him from being an “acting Bishop” of a huge ward in Salt Lake City to a convicted felon who temporarily lost his license to practice optometry. This was a decent person– a good guy who was having a crisis of faith and could not talk to his wife, other family members, or friends about his feelings. He started playing racquetball, took his new passion too far, eventually got seriously hurt, and was put on opium based painkillers. He developed an addiction to the painkillers, started calling in his own prescriptions, and soon lost everything.
Many church members would look at that story and determine that it was the man’s decision to abandon the church that led him to such disastrous consequences. Indeed, when church members resign, a lot of active members think it’s because they want to sin, are too lazy or weak to live by the church’s rules, or were somehow offended. Active members tend to avoid those with weak testimonies because they fear they will lose their own testimonies. It occurs to me that active members who fear those who are losing their testimonies must also have weak testimonies, because if their testimonies were strong, someone else’s doubts would not be a threat.
A person leaving the church often feels very much alone and may turn to habits that can turn out to be destructive. In the case of the contributor I just wrote about, he turned to racquetball. Racquetball is not a destructive habit in and of itself, but if one plays to the point of becoming seriously injured and needs pain pills, that can lead to a serious disruption of one’s life. Perhaps if the man could have talked honestly to his wife or church leaders about his doubts, he might not have experienced such a calamity. Maybe he would have eased up on the racquetball and not gotten seriously hurt. Or maybe the positive feelings he got from the drugs would not have been as seductive, since he might have been able to get a sense of normalcy and calm without needing medication.
Unfortunately, for many people, the church does not lend itself to open discussion or honesty. Married couples must cope with less intimacy because the church is a not so silent partner in their relationships. Important decisions about things like religious beliefs are not left up to the married couple. The church must be involved. And the church’s involvement means there will be less privacy, pressure, and the potential for punishment and humiliation. Many people who have doubts about the church don’t speak about them openly. Instead, they simply fake it. They lead lifestyles that are not authentic. They miss out on a lot of wonderful life experiences and freedom due to fear of disaster and abandonment. Being “fake” is also psychologically unhealthy and can ultimately lead to unhappiness.
I have only described one story in You’re Not Alone, but rest assured that the book is full of enlightenment about why people leave the LDS church and encouragement that there is life after Mormonism. While the immediate consequences of leaving the church can be heartbreaking and devastating, most people are able to pick up the pieces and live better, more authentic lifestyles. They make their own decisions and can accept their successes and failures as their own.
I’ve seen firsthand how liberating leaving the LDS church can be as I’ve watched Bill. When I met him, he was living on $600 a month and thought his life was ruined. He thought God hated him. What a blessing it’s been to have watched him blossom into a self-confident man who loves freely and enjoys his life. He has plenty of money (not paying 10% gross to the church is a great thing), gets to travel, wears whatever underwear he prefers, and drinks whatever he pleases. He is not afraid of being exposed to other people’s experiences and no longer has a testimony that must be protected at all costs. And although he was abandoned by his daughters, Bill has found out that his life is still very much worth living and he is free to do it on his own terms. I’m pretty sure that is what Jessica Bradshaw’s contributors have also discovered.
Naturally, I recommend You’re Not Alone, especially to anyone who has been thinking about leaving the LDS church, but also to those who are in any belief system that has them in metaphorical chains. I also think You’re Not Alone is a great read even if you aren’t LDS, although it probably does help to know something about the church before you read it. I also recommend Jessica’s first book, I’m (No Longer) a Mormon. Five stars from me.
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Here’s a repost from March 22, 2018. I don’t have a particular reason to bust on the Mormons today, butI felt this post might be helpful for someone out there. Religious abuse in families is a thing, and the photos in those prove it.
Yesterday, someone shared an article about the practice of shunning within the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I got sucked into a discussion about it in the Duggar group I’m in. There were a few folks saying that shunning doesn’t happen in the JWs, the Mormons, and other religious groups where shunning is supposedly rampant. I was reminded of a couple of documents Mormon parents gave to their wayward children and helpfully shared them with the group. If you read this blog regularly, you might have already seen these. I am reposting them for the curious.
I was actually surprised it took as long as it did, but several hours after I posted these, a so-called “liberal” Mormon spoke up to tell us that these letters don’t represent the norm in LDS families. She was careful to explain that she’s liberal and liberal Mormons exist… and church members, as a whole, aren’t really as “weird” as these letters make them sound.
Actually, when I originally posted these letters, I was careful to mention that not all Mormon families do this. There are millions of people in the LDS church and many of them are perfectly good folks. However, it’s disingenuous to say that shunning doesn’t occur in Mormonism. It does. It may not happen in your family or your friends’ families, but it happens in other families. By the way… it also happens among families in other strict religions that require family involvement, which I also pointed out.
These examples happen to be from Mormon families because I spend a lot of time following stories related to Mormonism. The LDS church has affected my husband personally. I would imagine that if Bill’s ex wife had been a Jehovah’s Witness convert, I would be following that faith more carefully. I do a lot of reading about the JWs anyway, because one of my cousins was a JW for awhile. He and his family left the church because the local leaders wanted to put a child molester in charge (or so that was the official explanation as to why they left).
The point is, shunning is a thing and it happens a lot in religious circles. It has two purposes. One, is to punish anyone who goes astray. The other purpose is to warn anyone within the group who is thinking about going astray. If you leave the toxic group, you will be ostracized. You’ll lose people who are important to you. Your support system will fall apart. These kinds of groups, by design, separate their members from other people in society, labeling them as “bad influences”. At first, the intimate nature of the group seems close, loving, and maybe even special. After awhile, when the group becomes toxic, that intimacy becomes a powerful incentive to stay invested. By the time a lot of people decide to leave, the people in the group are all they have. Leaving means striking out alone, and that’s too scary for many group members to consider. So they continue to toe the line.
Here’s another point I’d make to “liberal” Mormons who don’t like it when these kinds of threatening letters put shade on their religious beliefs. If you’re in a group designed to “bash” fundamentalist Christians like the Duggars, shouldn’t you expect that people might discuss other, less mainstream religions? Although many mainstream Mormons have been trying to be “normal” for a long time, the fact is, the Mormon leadership actually pride church members for being “peculiar”.
Another thing I noticed when I posted these letters is that at least one person felt these “rules” were perfectly fine. In the second group of photos, it sounds like the parent may be confronting his son for doing “illegal” or inappropriate things. I think it’s important to mention that many Mormons think that people who leave the church will immediately fall into illegal or immoral behavior without the strict church teachings to keep them in line. Many Mormons, who have no experience with things like alcohol, marijuana, or even sex outside of marriage, assume that people who drink, smoke weed, or have sex do so to excess. That’s not necessarily so.
I know some people get upset when I share things like this. However, I did get one private message from someone yesterday who thanked me. She is an ex Mormon and she gets it. I’m sorry if some people are offended because they feel “attacked” by critical posts about their religion. I say, if it doesn’t apply to you, you probably shouldn’t take heed. Or maybe you should… But there is a reason why church members are discouraged from reading “anti” Mormon literature. It’s because the leaders know that criticism is a threat to their members’ testimonies… and when members lose their testimonies, they leave. That means less money and power for the church as a whole. Think about it.
I have been hanging out on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard for about twenty years now, and I’ve been exposed to a lot of LDS stuff over that time period. However, somehow I completely missed out on Saturday’s Warrior, which started out as a “humble drama project” in California back in 1973, was turned into a Brigham Young University stage production in 1974, and then in 1989, became this musical monstrosity weirdly reminiscent of Saved By The Bell.
Because I had nothing better to do yesterday, I watched this whole film, and started a thread about it on RfM. On the surface, this show is pretty laughable and silly, but digging deeper, there’s actually kind of some disturbing stuff here. And since I haven’t upbraided the Mormons in a good, long, while, I thought today might be a good day for doing that. Germany is very stormy and windy today, and my dogs are too scared to go out and pee without strong encouragement from me. They probably won’t want a walk until things settle down.
This time of year is always difficult for me, especially in Germany, where the weather generally sucks for weeks on end. The past two years have sucked more than usual, mainly due to the pandemic, and the fact that it’s a good excuse for me to be reclusive. I have a tendency to hole up when there isn’t a deadly plague, but this virus just gives me a reason to hunker down more, which is actually not that great for my mental health. For one thing, I tend to drink more when I’m holed up at home. For another, I find myself watching bizarre videos on YouTube. Well… Saturday’s Warrior definitely fits the bill as “bizarre”, at least for the uninitiated. I can’t believe I watched the whole thing. And, well, afterwards, I was left a bit flabbergasted. More on that later.
Some background for those who don’t “know” me…
I grew up a Protestant (Presbyterian) in southeastern Virginia. Back in my kid days, there weren’t a whole lot of Mormons in Virginia, at least not in the area where I was coming of age. Now, of course, many LDS church members have descended on my mother’s hometown of Buena Vista and the surrounding areas, and I know there are a number of LDS folks in northern Virginia and other urban areas, particularly around Washington, DC. In 1996, church members bought my mom’s alma mater, the former Southern Seminary Junior College (Sem), in Buena Vista, and turned it into LDS influenced Southern Virginia University. I call the school “LDS influenced”, because the school is not owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but was purchased by several LDS businessmen.
I almost decided to go to Southern Sem when I was finishing high school in 1990, because I was really into horses and Sem had a great riding program. Six years later, the school had completely changed. What used to be a barn is now a basketball court, and what was once a tiny, private, women’s college is now a religious co-ed school. My mom was a day student at Sem; she got a full scholarship in exchange for playing piano for the glee club.
The funny thing is, one of the men who became a bigwig at SVU used to work in Farmville, Virginia, where I attended Longwood University in the early 1990s. I knew his wife, because she joined the auditioned choir, The Camerata Singers, of which I was also a member. She was probably the first Mormon I ever met– a mother of five, a graduate of BYU, and frankly, a little bit annoying (but in fairness, so was I). At the time, I had no way of knowing that one day, I would one day serve in the Peace Corps and meet a LDS couple, and then marry a Mormon convert a few years after that.
This may be a little “woo” of me, but I have always felt that the universe has a tendency to prepare you for things, if you’re paying attention. I think that LDS couple I knew in Armenia helped prepare me for meeting Bill, who is no longer Mormon, but totally could have been a stereotypical representative of the faith. He looks and acts the part, minus the fakeness/assigned friend tendency. You know how some people have a very convincing and superficially “nice” exterior? Well, Bill really is a very nice and extremely kind person. He is the kind of person who would take to heart the feel good, warm and fuzzy, teachings of the church. But he’s genuine, whereas I think some of the others in the faith, aren’t so much. But then, one could probably find that dynamic in most groups. It just seems more obvious to me in the LDS church.
My husband’s now adult daughters were raised LDS by their convert mother, who used the church as one of the many tools in her parental alienation arsenal. My husband’s younger daughter is a “returned missionary”, and is still an active member of the LDS church, but I think the others have mostly fallen away, except for when they need money or support of some kind. Bill was effectively estranged from both daughters for about 13 years, and only managed to see one of them in 2020, fifteen years after their last in person meeting. He now talks to his younger daughter regularly. The other daughter is still completely estranged and still lives with her mother. One of the many reasons they were estranged had to do with the LDS church and the way members are encouraged to guilt and manipulate people who choose to leave the religion.
For many reasons, ex Mormons are some of my favorite people. A lot of them are genuinely really good folks, but they are also smart and courageous, and they often have great taste in books and music. I’ve also noticed that some of the more rebellious ones have wonderfully irreverent senses of humor. It makes sense, too, since one has to be kind of brave and rebellious to leave Mormonism, especially if one’s whole family is invested. In Bill’s case, he was the only one in his birth family who had joined the church, so his family was mostly delighted when he resigned. They all gave us coffee and booze gifts at our wedding in 2002.
Until recently, I took a very negative view of Mormonism. However, at this point, I’m somewhat less hostile toward the church, because some members very kindly helped Bill’s daughter when we could not. So, as you can see, while I was never a member of the LDS church, it’s definitely touched my life. Over the past 20 years, I have learned a LOT about the LDS church through meeting exmos and active members, reading many books (especially memoirs), and watching a lot of LDS inspired programming.
The Osmond connection…
As I mentioned before, I did not know this show existed until yesterday afternoon. If I didn’t know something about what Mormons believe, as a non Mormon, I think I would have been totally confused by it. The film begins with credits, and I immediately notice Brian Blosil’s name. Brian Blosil is Marie Osmond’s second ex husband, and the father to all but one of her children.
In 2011, Marie Osmond remarried her first husband, Stephen Craig, and they have a bio son together who was born before their divorce in 1985. In 1986, Marie and Brian Blosil wed at the Jordan River Temple. They had two bio children together, and adopted five more children. As Saturday’s Warrior was made in 1989, Marie and Blosil were then still somewhat recently married. They divorced in 2007.
I read that Saturday’s Warrior was filmed at what used to be the Osmond Studios in Orem, Utah. The Osmonds sold the studios in 1989, and for some time, it was used by another outfit for television programs. Jimmy Osmond later repurchased the studios and refurbished them. At this writing, the buildings are being used by famed Utah rehab center for the stars, Cirque Lodge. Cirque Lodge is where Mary Kate Olsen went for rehab, allegedly for treatment of an eating disorder, when she was 18, but she went to the Sundance location. The Orem location is a newer facility for the luxury treatment center, which mostly treats drug and alcohol addiction (and that’s why I wrote that Mary Kate “allegedly” went there for her eating disorder).
I mention the Osmond connection, because as I was watching the video, I was reminded very much of Osmond family specials that aired when I was a child. I didn’t see a lot of LDS programming in those days, but even gentiles like me were exposed to the Osmonds. They were world famous and quite visible in the 70s and early 80s. Years later, as I was learning about Mormonism, I became a little fascinated by the Osmond family. Saturday’s Warrior really reminded me of the Osmonds’ variety shows and specials.
Now, on to my thoughts on the 1989 version of Saturday’s Warrior…
I mentioned up post that this show was originally a stage production performed in California in 1973. It was written by Douglass Stewart, a Latter-day Saint playwright, who is best known for writing Saturday’s Warrior. He has done other things, but this show is his most popular work. The video version I saw yesterday was based on a screenplay written by Bob Williams and his wife, Barbara.
The music was written by Alexis (Lex) de Azevedo, also a Latter-day Saint and father of ten. He’s a pianist, composer and actor, whose work is well-known on “beautiful music” radio stations. According to Wikipedia, de Azevedo’s music is popular on the Sirius station Escape, and at least one of his sanitized versions of popular songs is played every hour. As someone who loathes “Muzak/beautiful music”, I am a bit dismayed to read about this.
A lot of people who saw the original play criticized its story, and the doctrine upon which it was based. However, it proved to be very popular, and it was later produced at BYU. Evidently, the 1989 film was shown a lot in Mormon heavy areas, and a lot of 90s era LDS kids were raised on it. As I mentioned before, the production reminds me a little of Saved By The Bell, which was a popular Saturday morning television show back in the late 80s and early 90s. I’m sure the resemblance is coincidental, though.
The story begins with cheesy music and an obvious stage set, depicting a group of young, attractive, white people, mostly adolescents or children, in what looks like some kind of heavenly location. Pretty blonde Julie Flinders is fretting to her eternal love, Tod, that he’ll forget about her. She’ll be too “ugly” for him. Tod promises that he’ll find Julie, no matter what.
After a few minutes, it becomes clear that these attractive young people are waiting to be born. Mormons believe in a pre-mortal existence, and that children choose their parents. There’s an “angel”– a motherly looking woman with a clipboard– who keeps herding the kids to their destinies. A group of eight children of varying ages, destined to be siblings in the large Flinders family, talk about Earth and what they will do “down there”. The angel prods the young people to keep the schedule, lest they end up in Siberia or Madagascar instead of Utah. I mentioned this on RfM, and one poster pointed me to some of the more racist beliefs promoted this idea in the church back in the 1950s and 60s. Given that this was written in the 70s, I can see how those attitudes might have snuck into the script. They seem a little tone deaf in 2022.
Believe it or not, this was a significant influence on mormon culture and reinforced mormon beliefs. It also allowed abusive parents to absolve themselves and turn the blame back on their children because “you chose us as parents in the premortal existence, you knew what you were getting into.”
As for “disparaging other places, like Siberia and Madagascar,” standard official mormon doctrine. I give you the incomparable Mark E. Petersen, from “Race Problems – As They Affect the Church,” 8/27/1954:
“[C]an we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence, some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Indians, some as Negroes, some as Americans, some as Latter-day Saints.”
And let’s not forget Alvin Dyer’s “For What Purpose,” delivered in 1961:
“Why is it that you are white and not colored? Have you ever asked yourselves that question? Who had anything to do with your being born into the Church and not born a Chinese or a Hindu or a Negro? Is God such an unjust person that He would make you white and free and make a Negro cursed under the cursing of Cain that he could not hold the Priesthood of God? Who do you think decided and what is the reason behind it?”
The youngest of the kids, a little girl named Emily, begs the second eldest, a boy named Jimmy, to make sure he keeps his promise to her to see to it that she’s not “forgotten”, as the youngest of eight. Jimmy, played by Erik Hickenlooper, bears a passing resemblance to Donny Osmond. His “twin”, Pam (played by Marianne Thompson), looks a lot like Marie. Jimmy even sounds a bit like Donny as he acts conceited, just like Donny used to on the old Donny & Marie shows. And Pam worries that she’ll be a “sweet spirit” (not such a pretty girl), but all she wants to do is dance. Pam is born wheelchair bound and sickly.
As the kids are born, after a dance routine, Jimmy turns out to be rebellious. He’s been hanging out with worldly “atheists”, who see children as a burden and cheer for birth control and abortion. They sing a scandalous number about how “zero population” is the answer. Meanwhile, Jimmy’s parents keep having more kids, which really pisses off Jimmy. His family worries about him. He’s forgotten about his promise to Emily, to make sure that she’s not forgotten and is born.
A subplot involves Julie Flinders, who is engaged to a missionary named Wally (Bart Hickenlooper), who also looks like an Osmond and is just as conceited. Wally is shown at the airport with Julie, who is distraught that he’s leaving for his mission and making an embarrassing scene. It’s at this point that I see parallels to the Book of Mormon Musical, which I saw on stage in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll bet this movie was one of the influences for that show. I totally see “Elder Cunningham” in Wally’s mission companion, and “Elder Price” in Wally. Of course, they aren’t as funny as the Book of Mormon Musical characters are.
Saturday’s Warrior is all about how rebellious Jimmy eventually sees the light and realizes how important it is to bring souls from the pre-mortal existence down to Earth. Meanwhile, Wally and his companion manage to fix things so that Julie eventually meets her eternal mate, Tod, who had promised that he would find her on Earth, no matter what. And then, perhaps the most criticized aspect of this film happens, when Pam, who is sickly and can’t walk, dies and somehow ends up back in the pre-existence (which apparently isn’t doctrinal). She sees Emily, and reassures her that she will be born. As the movie ends, Emily is being born, and Jimmy is happy about it.
Things Ididn’t mind…
Saturday’s Warrior has sort of a “feel good” theme to it. If you like “happy” endings, and you’re LDS and think that conversions and births into the covenant are “happy endings”, this movie will probably make you warm and fuzzy. Of course, as someone who is not LDS, the plot made me cringe a bit. The overall message seems to be that the purpose of life is to become LDS, find your special someone, get married, and have lots of babies that are waiting in the spirit world, hoping to come down to Earth. Also, it seems to help if you’re white (and delightsome). The story is only about the importance of family and converting people to the religion, then bringing more souls to the religion. I think think there’s more to living than religious beliefs and pumping out kids who are waiting to be born. Especially given the state of our climate these days. I can see why believers would like the message, though.
I do genuinely believe that the cast is legitimately talented. One of the cast members went on to be in the country group, SHeDAISY. Erik Hickenlooper co-wrote the song, “Buy Me A Rose”, which was a huge hit for Kenny Rogers (with help from Billy Dean and Alison Krauss) in 1999. I know the song, and now that I read the lyrics, it doesn’t surprise me that it was composed by a Mormon. But as a fan of Kenny’s and Alison’s, I admit to liking “Buy Me A Rose”. If you look up Erik Hickenlooper, you’ll see that he’s now a real estate agent, but he’s quite proud of his hit song. He sings a LOT like Donny Osmond.
There are some beautiful dancers in this film, reminding me that the LDS church puts a high premium on the performing arts. Everyone mostly sings well, too, which is a blessing. Some of the singing is a bit trilly and seems not to fit with the pop music style used in most of the film. I would expect to hear it in a more classical composition. But nobody really hits any “clunkers”. The lyrics are very LDS, though. I hear the phrase, “on their merry way”, which I’ve noticed is used a lot by Mormons. I’ve heard the Osmonds use it more than a few times.
The little girl who plays Emily reminds me of a girl I knew in high school. She could be her daughter.
What I didn’t like as much…
I have a pretty high tolerance for cheese, but Saturday’s Warrior is really cheesy. Some of the dance numbers are downright hysterical. Like, for instance, when Julie sings to Wally in the airport, she and a couple of other LDS dancers do a true song and dance, complete with high kicks and high soprano screeching.
Then, there are nonsense songs like “Daddy’s Nose”, which is a cornball number about how all the kids got daddy’s big schnozz. Pam, sitting in her wheelchair, looking very lovely and Marie Osmond like, sings about how her nose ruined her chances of going far with her face. She compares it to Jimmy Durante, complete with his “hach cha cha cha”. Egad. When Pam dies, there’s not a lot of grief. That’s when Jimmy comes back to the fold.
There’s a lot of trite stuff. Some of it is just really silly… very much like some of the less cleverly written sit-coms back in the 70s and 80s. If you don’t know anything about LDS beliefs, you might be very confused by the story. It’s also very whitewashed– I think I saw one token Black guy in the cast. I’m reminded very much of how old I am. The fashions and hairstyles are a real time warp. And again, the storyline, which to me, is kind of ridiculous and insulting, especially to those who can’t have babies. But then, I am not LDS.
Here are many screenshots from the film, but to really get what I mean, you may want to watch it yourself. Or maybe not…
I feel like I’ve really stumbled across an element of LDS culture now. I don’t believe in Mormonism, of course, and having done some reading about this show and the story behind it, I think the story is genuinely ridiculous. But I can see why it appealed to some people and, again, I am truly impressed by the talented cast. There are some legitimately gifted people in this production– good actors, singers, and dancers who are also physically attractive. Given what they had to work with, I think they did okay. But the material is very corny and… “Osmond-esque”.
I have read that this show was redone in 2016, with a couple of new musical numbers added. There were also a couple of sequels done at BYU. It might be interesting to see the remake, but I probably won’t. Maybe if the opportunity arises somehow. I doubt I’ll go looking for it.
Anyway… I’ve prattled on long enough. Got some things to do, like the dreaded vacuuming chore and guitar practice. Maybe I’ll stumble on another “Hard to Find Mormon” video, which is the channel on YouTube where I tend to find these cultural “gems” from the Mormon world. See you tomorrow.
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