book reviews, LDS, religion, sex

Repost: A review of Happiest Misery: My Life As A Mormon by Jared Lonergan

In light of Mormon sex therapist Natasha Helfer’s excommunication, I’m going to repost a couple of relevant book reviews. Keep in mind, they are unedited and posted as/is. This first one was posted on the Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife on September 7, 2014.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been keeping myself occupied with reading, playing computer games, watching re-runs on iTunes, drinking beer and listening to music.  After I finished reading about Betty Broderick, I decided I needed to read something that wasn’t true crime.  Some time ago, I downloaded Jared Lonergan’s book, Happiest Misery: My Life As A Mormon (2013).  I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this book, especially since I love “exmo lit”.  But now I have read it and overall, I thought it was good reading, though perhaps a bit unconventional.

Jared Lonergan is a talented writer and I was definitely interested as he described being raised LDS in Kansas and Chicago.  As Lonergan explains, it’s not so common to be Mormon in those places.  Like many faithful Mormons, he was very much involved in his faith and did his best to follow its many rules.  One of the many rules of Mormonism is that sex before marriage is prohibited.  So is masturbation.  For Jared, these rules turned out to be very difficult to follow.

Jared starts his story as a nine year old youngster, noticing the pretty women in the church.  One of his older friends goads him into telling an older girl how “hot” she is in a rather vulgar way.  He gets away with it because he’s so much younger and cute.  It seems to ignite a sexual obsession within him; but then, Jared is obsessive about a lot of things, like weight and physical attractiveness, his own and that of other people.

Most of this book consists of an almost obsessive, stream of consciousness-like spew of Jared’s thoughts.  As someone who has studied a lot of psychology, I found Jared’s thoughts very interesting. He’s always thinking about sex, but he knows he’s not supposed to indulge.  So he tries to distract himself or shame himself into thinking about other things.  He doesn’t use a lot of official swear words– only occasionally does he slip up and utter the word “fuck”, for instance.  Instead, he uses the Mormon equivalents to swear words like “fetch” and “frick” and “crap”.  I’ve always found it amusing that some folks think it’s better to say “fetch” rather than “fuck”.  The intent is the same; it’s only the letters that are different.  But Jared dutifully avoids officially swearing, just like he avoids sex and other “sinful” behaviors to the point of driving himself mad.

Jared also has an eating disorder.  He is obsessive about food, his weight, and exercise.  He gains and loses weight, especially on his mission to Bordeaux, France.  He describes his mission as a terrible time in his life and spends the whole time obsessing over the girlfriend he left behind, Annie.  Annie is also Mormon and has dreams of a temple marriage and perfect family life.  Jared wants to give her that, but he has trouble fitting into the Mormon mold.  That inability to conform causes him heartbreak, although maybe in the long run, not conforming was for the best.

Jared’s parents were Mormon converts and they joined the church before Jared was born.  He explains that a couple of missionaries came over one day and impressed them by being respectful and upstanding.  According to Jared’s parents, he wouldn’t have been born had it not been for the Mormon missionaries, who impressed them by convincing them how important family is.  Three brothers followed Jared’s entrance into the world.  Perhaps because his parents were converts, Jared’s upbringing seemed to be a mixture of hardline conformity to Mormon ideals and familiarity with life outside of Mormonism.  Jared writes about his brother, Aaron, who requires multiple brain surgeries.  Mormonism probably helped his family cope, since the church believes that families can be together forever… as long as everyone pays, prays, and obeys, that is.  And Jared does his best not to disappoint.   

As I read this book, it occurred to me how utterly distressing, frustrating, and impossible it must have been for Jared trying to grow up in the church.  He’s obsessive, sexually frustrated, and seems terrified of doing something that will get him sent to the wrong echelon of Mormon Heaven (which frankly, to me, sounds like a really boring place).  He tries to act and look the part of the perfect Mormon, but no one is perfect and some people are less perfect than others.  So on top of trying to come of age and mature into a healthy adult, Jared is trying and failing to become the perfect Mormon male.  He doesn’t measure up and it leads to depression and rejection, since other people expect him to be who he’s not. 

Parts of this book were annoying to read.  For instance, Jared doesn’t like fat or ugly people and he liberally insults them.  But then he turns around and acknowledges his own shortcomings and his inability to be perfect is a kind of torture for him.  It ends up being poignant and kind of tragic.  At one point, he visits a doctor who tells him he needs to masturbate because his prostate is enlarged and causing him pain.  But Jared can’t do that because it’s “wrong”, according to his faith.

Parts of this book are kind of funny, too.  I thought Jared’s overuse of “swear words” like “fetch” and “crap” were humorous, if only because to a non-Mormon, they just sound silly.  I mean, in most ways, Jared is a normal, red-blooded teen with hormones running through his body and sex on the brain.  But he has to substitute the word “fetch” for “fuck”.  So when he has a “nightmare” about almost indulging in lustful sex with a supermodel, he says “Fetch off!” and “Fetchin’ hell”…  and it seems ridiculous.

I thought Jared’s thoughts on his missionary experience were interesting, too.  It seems like being a missionary might have opened his eyes a bit about how others see the church.  He also had his eyes opened about some of the church leaders, recognizing that they were really just men. 

Overall, I liked Happiest Misery, though I thought the ending was a bit abrupt.  I’m not sure how Jared feels about the church now.  I got the feeling he had turned into an exmo, but I’m not really certain about that.  I do think it’s a fascinating look into the psyche of a young man growing up Mormon, especially since I suspect Jared may have had something else going on mentally besides simple growing pains.  I recommend it.

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Ex, LDS, psychology

The “princess treatment”…

About ten years ago, I was a big fan of the Project Rant series on YouTube. This channel featured actors who would take the most entertaining rants from Craig’s List and recite them as if they were the people who wrote them. I can’t remember which rant attracted me first, but I was hooked after I saw my first video– which wasn’t actually their first video. I have a habit of catching on to things after they’ve been established for awhile. For instance, it took me four years to discover Desperate Housewives. I never got into Nurse Jackie until long after it was off TV.

This morning, I discovered a video by Project Rant that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s entitled “Bully”, and appears below…

This one is a bit darker than most of them… I had somehow missed its release. I like her parting shot.

I hate bullies. I understand on a cognitive level that bullies exist because they have unmet psychological needs, and they take out their angst on people they perceive to be different and/or weaker than they are. I still hate them, though. I have been on the receiving end of bullies for most of my life, and it’s caused me a lot of pain. It’s also made me surprisingly resilient and resolute about some things. As I watched the above Project Rant video, I related to the actress as she describes mean people provoking her to take action.

What is a bully? Simply put, a bully is “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable”. I’ve seen some people and behaviors described as “bullying”, when they don’t actually fit the definition of “bully”. For instance, I don’t think mere criticism of someone counts as bullying. There has to be a threat or intimidation involved. There also has to be a perceived power imbalance– whether or not there is an actual power imbalance– which causes the bully to act.

This morning, Bill and I were discussing a sad and distressing situation involving a female bully and her victims. For years, we were the only ones who seemed to see what was happening. Other people have now noticed the bully and the bad behavior perpetrated by this person.

Having a relationship with a bully, particularly when it’s someone as close as one’s parent, is like falling into quicksand or being caught in an undertow. It’s very troublesome and exhausting to extricate oneself from those situations. Once you’re out of that metaphorical quicksand or undertow, you’re wise to stay out of the morass and avoid the area. That’s what going “no contact” is about. A person can go “no contact” with a bully and still forgive them, and even wish the best for them.

But, as the actress in the above Project Rant video points out, sometimes you have to take bullies down a notch. There are times when it’s appropriate and even necessary to take action against them. Sometimes, you have to fight back. Sometimes, the smallest and most subtle and obscure clues can be profound in how they illustrate an actual scenario of how a bully is operating. Context is important.

The above video is pretty funny… especially at the beginning, as the missionaries ring the doorbells to the stars.

This morning, Bill related a story he’d heard from someone who had served as a Mormon missionary. Mormon missionaries, as you may or may not know, are not often treated well by the public. They tend to get a lot of doors slammed in their faces. But every once in awhile, they run into people who offer unexpected kindness to them. It’s those people who are the most memorable, and who often have a profound affect on the missionary’s experiences in the field.

I have kind of a special affinity for missionaries. I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which isn’t the same as being a Mormon missionary in terms of my purposes for being away, or the day to day lifestyle. How the experience is similar, however, is that Peace Corps Volunteers and missionaries are far away from home and typically don’t have a lot of money. Both groups of people can be somewhat vulnerable in a number of ways. And since they are so far from the comforts of home, some situations are magnified in terms of how they are experienced and remembered.

Sometimes, people are cruel, but sometimes they’re not. I think the LDS missionary and Peace Corps situations are also similar in that, a lot of times, missionaries and Volunteers find themselves daydreaming about being at home and feeling comfortable among material possessions and loved ones. However, it’s possible for a PCV to visit home during their service. It’s generally not possible for LDS missionaries to go home while they are “serving the Lord”, even if there’s an emergency. Being a Mormon missionary can be very tough, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Bill said that this missionary had been treated like a “princess” by a couple she and her companion met when they were missionaries. The couple, who were members of the church, helped them out by giving them a place to stay for a couple of weeks. For some reason, the sister missionaries had nowhere to stay, so the couple had taken them in on a temporary basis. Years later, she remembers the experience of staying with the couple and describes their treatment of her as “like a princess”.

It’s my understanding that the church arranges apartments for the missionaries. The apartments tend to be cheap and spartan in nature, and sometimes they aren’t in the best or safest neighborhoods. But supposedly, the onus is not on the missionary to go out and find an apartment on their own. I am left thinking that the missionary in this story was waiting for a spot to open in an existing apartment, but I’m not sure exactly what the situation was.

I was just awestruck that the former missionary felt this couple who had taken her and her companion into their home– strangers to them, except for being fellow church members– had treated her so well that she felt like a princess. Either the couple who had offered hospitality are extraordinary people who weren’t aware of the concept of what missionary life is supposed to be like, or the missionary’s life at home was extraordinarily terrible. Bill happens to know something about this particular missionary’s home life. Indeed, he knows about it quite intimately. And he can attest that life at home was probably pretty horrible for her.

Still… hearing that story this morning really gobsmacked me. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of accounts from former LDS missionaries. I know that for a lot of them, the mission is pretty tough. It’s physically, emotionally, and mentally uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s even dangerous. Sometimes missionaries come home with lifelong health issues related to their missions, or lose limbs or senses.

A number of missionaries have even died while serving. Some get sick with diseases like dysentery, or they become seriously ill because they don’t get adequate medical treatment. That tends to happen when the missionaries are in remote areas in developing countries. Some missionaries are victims of crimes. I remember in 2006, an “elder” (male missionary) from Utah was killed in Virginia when he and his companion stumbled across a criminal in the process of committing an offense. The criminal shot the missionaries, and one of them– Morgan Young– died, while the other was wounded.

Church members tend to regard those who die while serving a mission as somehow blessed– they had a special purpose that God needed them for in the Celestial Kingdom, or something. I remember, in particular, the missionary who died in Virginia, since that’s my home state and where I was living at the time of the death. His mother said her son had “died with his boots on”. Below is a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley, who was president of the LDS church when the missionary was murdered:

“I’m impressed with the thought that Elder Young has joined the ranks of a very select group who stand so very, very high in the estimate of God,” he said. “There is some special place and some special work for them to do under our Father’s plan.”

Some missionaries have accidents, which run the gamut from the garden variety car crash, to falling off cliffs while hiking, or even being mauled by animals. Many missionaries make it through the experience just fine, although some are left with emotional scars that haunt them. I’ve read a lot of stories by people who have been LDS missionaries and have left the experience worse for wear. But sometimes, the mission– as tough as it can be– is even better than being at home.

It’s not that different for Peace Corps Volunteers. Sometimes, PCVs die, have accidents, are victims of crimes, or contract exotic illnesses that affect them for the rest of their lives. I think that PCVs may have access to better healthcare. I know that they can be “medevacked” to the States or a western country for treatment, if it’s necessary. The LDS church, on the other hand, tends to do things as cheaply as possible. A lot of times, church members are tapped for help– donations of skills or material things, like a room in a house. So, say a church member is a doctor or a dentist. The church might call on that person to offer treatment for an ailing missionary free of charge, or at a much reduced rate. Sometimes people are glad to help, but other times, it’s an imposition.

I would think hosting two young women in a home, particularly since missionaries have to live by rather strict standards and rules, could be an imposition. I would not expect a missionary to be treated like royalty. But then, I also know that sometimes, just being treated with basic kindness, dignity, and respect when one has spent their whole lives being abused, can feel like royal treatment. So, knowing what we do about this situation, I guess I can understand why it felt like “princess treatment” for the missionary in question. She was getting treated like someone with value. And now, she wants to help others who are not being treated with value escape the morass, and get away from the bully who has victimized them for years.

It’s very satisfying to escape the toxic clutches of a bully. It’s even more satisfying to help someone else escape, and to help them realize that they can and should be treated with basic respect. But it’s absolutely mind blowing when someone describes being treated with dignity and decency as “the princess treatment”. I have no words for that. It’s possible that this missionary was really treated as if she was a princess, but I doubt it. I think being treated with warmth, friendliness, fairness, and love was so foreign and comforting to her that it felt like “the princess treatment”, much like a plate of bland vegetables or saltines tastes like the best food in the world to a starving person. It’s all about perspective.

Anyway… we hope we can help her take the bully down a notch. Maybe not with a literal baseball bat… but with something just as devastating and powerful. Time will tell.

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book reviews, religion

Repost of my review of Lynn Wilder’s Unveiling Grace.

Here’s another exMo lit book review I’m trying to preserve.  This one is about a former Mormon BYU professor who leaves the LDS religion and becomes a Christian.  It was originally written November 25, 2013 and appears here “as/is”.

If you’ve read many of my book reviews, you may know that I often read what I refer to as “exmo lit”– that is, books written by people who are former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).  I became interested in exMormons because my husband is one.  He converted to Mormonism with his ex wife, then left the faith a few years after they divorced.  Watching the aftermath of that decision has led me to discover a couple of online exMormon communities.  I’ve made new friends, many of whom are very interesting and intelligent people and I’ve read lots of books about the “exmo experience”.  Of course I’d want to read Lynn K. Wilder’s 2013 book, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church.  I downloaded it to Kindle and finished it over several hours in one sitting. 

Who is Lynn K. Wilder and why did she write a book about qutting Mormonism?

Dr. Lynn K. Wilder is currently an associate professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, where she teaches courses in education.  Prior to her work at Florida Gulf Coast University, Dr. Wilder taught at Mormon owned Brigham Young University and was on track to become a full professor.  She and her husband were raised as mainstream Protestants, then converted to Mormonism in 1977.  They raised their three sons and daughter in the faith, first in Indiana, then later in Utah, when Wilder was hired to teach at BYU.

In her book, Unveiling Grace, Wilder explains what about Mormonism attracted her husband and her to the faith.  Much of it seemed to have to do with coincidental “miracles” that coincided with good and bad events in the Wilders’ lives.  Dr. Wilder was a teacher who worked with kids with special educational needs.  But she longed for a family.  It was challenging for her to sustain a pregnancy; she had at least a half dozen miscarriages at around sixteen weeks before her first two sons, Josh and Matt, were born.  Her next son, Micah, and daughter, Katie, rounded out the family.  Having the children was difficult and she relied a lot on prayer and good works through the LDS church to win favor with God…  or at least that’s what I got from her story.  She explains that for thirty years, she attributed her eventual success to Mormonism instead of traditional biblical Christianity.

It was her son, Micah, who facilitated her family’s exit from Mormonism.  Micah was always a very devout Mormon and had dutifully applied for a mission when he was about to turn nineteen.  He was originally supposed to go to Mexico City, but a medical emergency during his training necessitated a change to Orlando, Florida.  While he was in Florida, Micah and his missionary companion tried to convert a black Baptist preacher, who apparently convinced them that Mormonism is a false religion.  Micah got in touch with his mother just as he was exiting his mission and very soon, the rest of the family followed Micah out of the church.  The entire family, apparently to include the young women who married Wilder’s sons, are now “biblical” Christians.

My thoughts

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Unveiling Grace.  I am not a particularly religious person myself, so I wasn’t reading this book looking for a faith promoting story.  Wilder, like my husband, is an exMormon.  Those who have never been exposed to Mormonism may not know that it’s usually a very big deal to leave the LDS church if you have other family members in the faith.  Wilder is very fortunate that she and her husband were converts and everyone in their family was willing to leave the church.  I know of many people who have lost contact with siblings, parents, and children because they quit Mormonism.  My husband is, in part, estranged from his daughters because he’s not LDS anymore.  The LDS church can make a very effective alienation tool, since it requires everyone to pray, pay, and obey before everyone gets the promised blessings.

Wilder does a good job illustrating some of the less appealing aspects of being LDS, especially for women who have career aspirations.  She writes that she was expected to be involved in several time consuming “callings” within the church.  Perhaps the most demanding role she was pressured to take on was presidency of the Relief Society.  Every LDS woman over the age of 18 is a member of the Relief Society; it meets every week on Sunday and one evening per week.  Being president of the ward’s (congregation’s) Relief Society was a very large commitment and required Wilder to be an example to other women in the church.  But Wilder had decided she wanted to pursue her doctorate and, besides taking care of her four kids, was also working outside of the home.  Wilder explains that the church’s prophet at the time had asked all the women to quit working outside of the home and be homemakers, tending to their husbands and children.  She also explains that her decision to work went against the prophet’s words, which put her at odds with local church leaders.

Wilder repeatedly writes about how prestigious and excellent Brigham Young University is, and yet it’s a university that almost lost its accreditation in its School of Education because there were too few professors working there who had gotten their degrees at universities other than BYU.  Another complaint was that the student population was not diverse enough.  When BYU did start taking students who were more diverse, some of whom also had disabilities, Wilder claims that some professors wondered allowed how some of them had gotten into “their” program.  It seems to me that any university that has that much “group think” and lacks diversity can’t be a real beacon for higher thinking.

Years later, when Wilder was a professor at BYU and determined that she no longer wanted to be LDS, she also realized that if anyone in the church found out about her disbelief, she would lose her job.  Her work at BYU required that she be an active Mormon who believed in and promoted “the gospel”.  The fact that Wilder’s disbelief in Mormonism seriously threatened her job at BYU is a sign that the school is not as excellent as it is purported to be.  If anyone should be at liberty to think freely, it’s a college professor.  And yet apparently most professors at Brigham Young University (the ones who are LDS, anyway) are not allowed the freedom to think freely about religion and other subjects.  Deviating from Mormonism means losing their livelihood, which to me, seems counterproductive in a university environment. 

Dr. Wilder was one of the few education professors at BYU who had been entirely educated at other universities and was also a convert.  She writes that she encountered some discrimination in Utah for being a convert and having a career.  One would think that Wilder would be more logical, given that she was educated at secular universities outside of Mormonism.  However, Wilder seems to rely a lot of feelings and “signs” when she is presented with a dilemma.  She presents several instances in which opportunities seemed to “fall out of the sky” and claims that they were signs from Jesus rather than recognizing that they could have come from something else.

Wilder writes one story about wearing a cross and having to hide it under her clothes, since Mormons don’t revere the cross the way other faiths do.  She lost the cross while working and went to the lost and found at BYU, where the girl working the desk told her that they wouldn’t have any crosses there.  It turned out several had been turned in, though none were the professor’s.  As she was walking away, the lost and found girl ran after her and said someone had just turned in Wilder’s cross.  Wilder took that as a “sign” from God rather than considering that she might just have been lucky. 

Dr. Wilder writes about how her sons had each gone on missions– all three originally were assigned missions abroad, which supposedly means that they were “more impressive” than other Mormon missionaries.  Let me state for the record that I don’t know if the missionaries who go to foreign countries really are better or more impressive than other missionaries are.  Wilder mentions that common belief in her book, that those who are called to foreign countries, especially in Europe, are somehow more prestigious than those who end up in the United States.  She is obviously very proud that her sons got called to Russia, Denmark, and Mexico (then Florida, but only because of the medical issues).  And yet, it doesn’t seem to occur to her that all three young men, who each served “honorably”, were out spreading what she later calls a “false religion” to innocent people around the world.  In fact, her youngest son, was actually led astray by someone he was trying to lead to Mormonism.  I’m not disappointed that Wilder’s son’s beliefs changed, though I don’t think that his mother is as “recovered” from Mormonism as she seems to think she is.

This book also rambles a bit, which makes it hard to follow sometimes.  Wilder starts in the recent present, introducing readers to her family and explaining how her sons were all different, yet amazing people.  In 2006, her third son, Micah, had an epiphany that changed everything.  Then she abruptly goes back to 1977, when she and her husband decided to convert.  From there, the book skips around somewhat, rather than progressing in one direction.  If you aren’t paying close attention, it’s easy to get lost.

Overall 

I think this may be good reading for Christians, especially those who are former Mormons.  Many parts of Unveiling Grace are interesting and it’s basically a well-written book.  Wilder does bring up several aspects of Mormonism which can be problematic for those who can’t entirely buy into the belief system. 

On the other hand, I get the feeling that Wilder still has some recovery to do.  Some of her faith promoting thoughts seem to be the same kind of thoughts Mormons have, only rebranded as evangelical Christian.  She seems to rely a lot on feelings and “signs” as to what’s right, rather than rational thinking and logic.  Given that she’s a college professor, I find that a little troubling.

For more information about Lynn Wilder…

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Ex, mental health, politics

When QAnon brings estranged family members together…

Yesterday, I read a sad article in The Washington Post about how people have lost family members to QAnon. It began with a compelling description about how 24 year old Tyler watched as his mom stocked up for an imagined armageddon. She brought home ammunition, a water purifier, camping gear, and shelf stable food. She started wearing a holstered pistol just walking around her house, believing that there would be days of power outages and civil unrest.

Tyler’s mom told him that on March 4, 2021, there would be massive chaos. That would be when Donald Trump would return to power. March 4, for your edification, is the original Inauguration Day prior to the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1932.

Tyler had been living with his mother since he graduated college in 2019. They were located about an hour north of Minneapolis. As the 2020 elections approached, Tyler watched as his mom became more and more entrenched in baseless conspiracy theories and outright lies. Based on the WaPo’s article, I can assume that she turned into someone he no longer knew. Complicating matters was the presence of Tyler’s stepfather, who is apparently just as entrenched in QAnon.

The confusion in the household and worry Tyler experienced prompted him to seek help online. Last month, Tyler found the Reddit group, QAnonCasualties, which was founded by people who had watched their families fracture over the political climate in the United States. He explained to the moderators of the group that his mother and stepfather have a lot of weapons and are convinced that World War III is about to commence.

Making matters worse is the fact that Tyler hasn’t been working. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a mild form of autism, Tyler had graduated from a local university with a degree in manufacturing engineering. He quit his job in early January because he hoped to find work that would make use of his newly minted degree. As of yet, he hasn’t found new work. As Inauguration Day approached, he watched his mom grow ever more unhinged.

An old friend had stopped by with a wedding present, since Tyler’s mom had just remarried. Noticing the pistol, the friend asked Tyler’s mom if she planned to shoot anyone that day. And Tyler’s mom reportedly replied, “You never know what’s going to happen with the Democrats. They stole the election.” The friend told WaPo reporters that Tyler’s mom had once been a “wonderful” person who had invited her over for tea and gone kayaking with her. But now, it seems she’s gone completely off the deep end. According to the article:

To protect his family’s anonymity, The Washington Post is only using Tyler’s first name. In an email, his mother blamed her son for the tension in the house, writing that he was disrespectful and refused to look for work after leaving his job earlier this year. She added that she “never even heard of Qanon until very recently” and doesn’t “follow it,” but declined to discuss why she had begun purchasing survival gear and whether she believed Trump would return to the White House in March. “My beliefs about Trump are actually none of your business,” she wrote.

Tyler said he and his mother discussed QAnon one time; a bizarre conversation in which his mother insisted that QAnon prophecies were the product of artificial intelligence. He described an atmosphere of growing conspiracy and fear that pervaded his home. “It started a month before the election,” Tyler said in an interview, “and it kept growing until it felt like she was preaching the Bible to me.”

At first she insisted that Trump, not Biden, would be inaugurated on Jan. 20, and for a while Tyler held out hope that Biden’s swearing-in would jolt his mother back into reality. She would put away her gun and life would return to normal. But, the ceremony in Washington seemed to make little difference at his house in Minnesota.

Tyler truly hoped his mom would be more normal once Biden was inaugurated. He even posted online that she had seemed more “normal” on January 21st. But very soon, she went back to her old ways, insisting that Trump would be back in the White House. So Tyler decided to confront his mom, and that confrontation ultimately led to his being ejected from her home. She even threatened to have her new husband “hurt” Tyler.

Which brings me to the title of today’s post… up until this point, it sounds like Tyler’s family fell apart due to QAnon. But he found help from his other parent– his biological father and stepmother. Tyler had lost contact with his dad when he was a child and they had only recently reconnected. And Tyler’s dad and stepmother were willing to take him in, once Tyler’s unhinged mom tossed him and his belongings out of her house. On February 3, 2021, Tyler texted his stepmother, Heather, and told her that he’d confronted his mom, telling her that he didn’t believe in QAnon or any of his mom’s whackadoodle theories.

Half an hour later, Heather picked up Tyler, who was waiting in the front yard. When he got into Heather’s car, Tyler started to cry. Tyler is now sleeping in his 7 year old half sister’s bedroom. She sleeps in her parents’ room. Not long after the confrontation with Tyler’s mom, Tyler was contacted by his new stepfather, who wrote “When your daddy gets sick of you living there (and he will) don’t bother calling us.”

Those of you who regularly follow my blog might already know that my husband lost contact with his daughters after he and his ex wife divorced. A few years ago, one of Bill’s daughters finally reconnected with him. The other one remains estranged, and is apparently hopelessly entrenched in her mother’s sick, culty world. Last year, just before COVID-19 shut everything down, Bill visited his younger daughter for the first time since Christmas 2004. When she opened the door, Bill said the two of them stood there and shared a long overdue hug. And then they spent the whole two days of Bill’s visit debriefing each other about the events of the fifteen years they had spent apart.

I don’t know anything about Tyler’s mom, but although Tyler’s mom’s friend describes her as a “wonderful” person, I have a feeling that she’s another one of those people who hates her exes more than she loves her children. I come to that conclusion, not just because she fell into the QAnon cult, but because of a comment Tyler made to his stepmother. When he texted Heather that his mom had threatened to have his new stepfather “hurt” him, he also explained that he wasn’t actually worried about his safety. He wrote, “I’ve been dealing with this for years. It’s normal for me.

When Bill and his daughter met last year, Bill heard in more detail what it was like to grow up with Ex. There were many threats and promises made. There was a lot of “culty” thinking, not just in terms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which Ex had insisted on joining a few years before she and Bill split, but also in terms of her own mini narcissistic cult. The girls were forced to write Bill letters disowning him and demanding that he allow their stepfather, Ex’s third husband, to adopt them. Ex had reportedly stood over them and made them write the letters, which she sent Bill just in time for his 42nd birthday.

Something tells me that Tyler’s current stepfather is not his first, since he wrote to Heather that this was not a new thing. Tyler’s mom evidently has a history of coming unglued, and probably sees Tyler as an extension of herself. And when Tyler didn’t want to fall in with her QAnon fantasy, she cast him out… the same way Ex does to anyone who won’t play along with her fantasies. I don’t know enough about Tyler’s mom to say I think she’s a narcissist, but my guess is that she has a “high conflict personality”. And as Bill and I have observed with his ex wife, who also has a high conflict personality, these types of people often get sucked into things as they blame everyone else for their issues. With Ex, it was everything from multi-level marketing scams to the LDS church. Granted, the Mormons didn’t turn out to be all bad. They did help Bill’s daughter escape her mother. But the church doesn’t give things without strings attached.

Younger daughter no doubt feels indebted to the church, and believe me, it’s not unlike the leadership to capitalize on that human need for reciprocity— that is, feeling obligated to reciprocate “kind actions”. There’s nothing wrong with that on its surface. Sometimes, however, “reciprocity” can be abused, and people wind up trapped by the need to pay back a solid, even long after the “emotional debt” has been repaid. This is how groups get control over people and stop them from living their own lives and thinking for themselves. Pretty soon, the lovebombing that occurs at the beginning of the relationship can turn into something sinister and toxic.

I have long believed that my husband’s ex wife runs her life like a mini cult. Anyone in her sphere has to accept whatever her conditions are, no matter how nutty or destructive they are. She’s allowed to do anything she wants, even if it’s criminal, because she had a shitty childhood and no one recognized how “special” she is. She’s allowed to abuse her husbands and her children because she was abused, and she’s allowed to take that abuse as far as she wants with no repercussions, whatsoever. Meanwhile, those of us who have been affected by her behavior and dare to speak out about it get raked over the coals and smeared. She went as far as to alienate Bill’s children, but she also did her best to try to destroy his relationships with his own parents!

Like Tyler, Ex has at least a couple of children who are on the autism spectrum, which makes them more vulnerable to her toxicity. Bill’s older daughter supposedly has Asperger’s Syndrome, and younger daughter has said that Ex’s youngest child, a fourteen year old son, is non-verbal due to autism. Bill’s older daughter, who will turn 30 this summer, still lives with Ex and has supposedly devoted her life to caring for her brother, who will likely never be able to live on his own. Meanwhile, whenever Ex gets pissed off at older daughter, she threatens to throw her out of the house, even though older daughter does the heavy lifting involved with caring for Ex’s son. Sounds a lot like what Tyler went through with his mom.

Incidentally, Tyler went back to his mom’s house about a week after he moved out to pick up his stuff. All of his belongings were thrown out on the front lawn, where they soon became covered with snow. He still hopes that his mother’s Trump fervor will fade and he will eventually be able to reconcile with her. He said, “I just don’t see the humanity in this. I wanted my family back, not this hatred.”

For Tyler’s sake, I truly hope he can reconnect with his mom. I hope she is, deep down, a reasonable and decent person who can grow up and wise up, and see what she stands to lose by continuing to submit to the QAnon bullshit. I don’t know what made her fall down the rabbit hole, but it would not surprise me if Tyler’s mom had some trauma in her life that somehow made her feel ostracized and persecuted. And the siren call of QAnon, which is full of butthurt delusional people must have been much too hard to resist– so hard that she’s willing to kick her own son out of her life.

It’s not that I don’t empathize with the abused. I have no doubt in my mind that my husband’s ex wife was severely abused by many people when she was a child. I can understand why she’s so traumatized. What I can’t abide is her habit of throwing away family members and forcing her children and husbands to disconnect with those of whom she doesn’t approve. It’s possible, or even probable, that Tyler’s new stepfather is partly to blame for Tyler’s mother’s actions. However, reading that he has only now reconnected with his father and his father and stepmother, who have apparently been together long enough to have a seven year old daughter, have welcomed him into their home, gives me a feeling that Tyler’s mom has some serious issues. And those issues, like Ex’s, make her vulnerable to falling into cults from which they never escape.

Sadly, more often than not, the best thing to do in such a situation is go no contact and cut all ties. I don’t think younger daughter has gone completely no contact yet, but she has definitely come out of the F.O.G. since she moved away from Ex. As hard as that is, and as sad as it initially was, in the long run, it’s the only way to find peace, autonomy, and freedom from chaos and drama.

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book reviews, LDS

Repost: My review of Suddenly Strangers: Surrendering Gods and Heroes

Here’s another repost of a book review. This one was originally written for Epinions.com on April 30, 2009. I reposted it on my old blog in July 2014, and I’m reposting it again today, as/is.

Note from 2014

A few years ago, I read an excellent book by Chris and Brad Morin, two brothers who decided to leave the LDS church.  They were from a large family and their decision to leave the church was not met with a lot of acceptance.  The brothers came together to write their story.  I think it illustrates one terrible issue that people run into when they decide they don’t want to be Mormon anymore.  For a belief system that claims that families should always be put first, the attitude toward those who question the beliefs sure is harsh.  Suddenly Strangers is a very well-researched book with plenty of examples from church approved sources as to why the brothers decided it wasn’t as true as it claims to be.  I strongly recommend it.

A few years ago (in 2006), my husband officially resigned his membership to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He had many reasons for doing so. The main one, I think, was that he had pretty much joined the LDS church as a means of saving his first marriage. My husband and his ex wife had converted to Mormonism just three years before they divorced. At the time, it had seemed like a good thing to do, since the church seemed so wholesome and family oriented. They went through the “discussions” with a couple of nice missionaries and were very warmly welcomed as a “golden family”, so called that because they had come to the church on their own accord. But not long after he joined the church, my husband started to learn much more about his new faith and found that he didn’t agree with it. Worse, my husband’s former wife used the church as a mechanism to turn his children against him. When the marriage finally crumbled, so did my husband’s testimony. He became inactive and formally resigned his church membership several years after he had married me.

I have never been a Mormon myself, but my husband’s participation in the faith piqued my curiosity about it. I began to read a lot of books on the subject, and that’s how I came to read Suddenly Strangers: Surrendering Gods and Heroes (2004), by Brad L. Morin and Chris L. Morin. These two authors are brothers who, along with their nine other siblings, were brought up as faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The church had been the focal point of their upbringing and family life. It was also a large part of their heritage and history. They had been taught that the LDS church was the only true church, and that apostacy and denouncing the church was worse than committing murder or adultery. And yet, even so, they felt compelled to leave the church, despite the fact that they knew how negatively their friends and family would react. Suddenly Strangers is the story of their departure, along with their well researched and documented reasons why they left.

Why leaving is such a big deal

I was brought up as a mainstream Presbyterian and that faith, by and large, has been the only one I’ve ever followed consistently. In my church, if someone grew disatisfied and wanted to leave, it was not that big of a deal. Sure, church outreach volunteers might call and ask for an explanation and issue a welcome back, but it’s not like the decision was likely to break up families or cause divorces.  People just leave and that’s it.

As Brad and Chris Morin point out, making a similar announcement to their very devout Mormon family members was bound to cause a great deal of backlash. When they did make their announcement, the reactions were varied. One sister called them and pronounced them “wicked”. She told them she never wanted to see or hear from them again. A couple of brothers expressed sorrow, but otherwise respected their decision. Another brother wrote a letter full of demands that placed conditions on their future relationship. A niece wrote a letter to Brad Morin that practically begged him to reconsider and pray to God for assurance that the church was true.

Of course, the two brothers also had to break the news to their wives. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for LDS marriages to break up when one spouse no longer believes. At the time of his decision, Chris Morin was the father of a one year old child and another child on the way. He actually entertained the idea of his wife, Cathy, divorcing him and remarrying a faithful church member so that his children would grow up in household without a doubter. Then it occurred to him that no stepfather could possibly love his children the way he did. As I’ve witnessed my husband’s pain as his daughters have pretty much grown up without him, I could relate to that thought.

Many reasons for going

In this very well documented book, Chris and Brad Morin include many personal and doctrinal reasons why they could no longer be faithful Mormons. They include many quotes from Brigham Young, some of which ranged from the ridiculous to the unsavory. Brad Morin is a professional educator and he found himself researching some of the historical claims made by the LDS church. He found that many of them couldn’t be accurate. Both brothers discuss how they watched church members behave when someone began to express doubts. Rather than respond to the scrutiny, it was immediately assumed that the person was reading anti-Mormon literature, consorting with apostates, had been offended by another member, or simply wanted to sin. It occurred to them that the judgmental attitudes they were encountering were not in harmony with the warm and fuzzy “families first” image the church put out to the world.

Aside from Brigham Young…

The Morin brothers include transcripts of interviews involving Larry King and the late Gordon Hinckley, who was until recently the church’s prophet. With each chapter, they include actual quotes from church leaders and philosophers. It’s clear they’ve done their research along with plenty of thinking about their decision.

My thoughts

To be honest, I’m of two minds about this book. I definitely think Chris and Brad Morin did exhaustive research in order to make their compelling arguments against the church. Those arguments are no doubt very valuable to those who would want to use official doctrine to disprove Mormonism. However, the part of the book that I found most compelling and more interesting was their discussion of the reactions they got from their family following their decision to resign. I was very surprised and somewhat dismayed to read some of the things these once loving family members said. On page 134, Brad Morin quotes a brother as saying the following when he found out about Morin’s decision:

I am going to be honest with you. I don’t ever want to talk to you again. I don’t want to see you again. I don’t want any letters or e-mail from you. If you write a letter for the family newsletter, I will not send it out. I don’t want you coming to visit on the nineteenth. I still love you, but I don’t ever want to see you again.

A brother-in-law e-mailed the following after Chris Morin announced his decision to quit:

Just heard from Chris, and respectfully speaking, of course, I’m not so sure you didn’t exert some influence there… I think you need to allow people to make their own decisions without your influence… Choices about religion lead to divorce, bad family feelings, and really crappy family reunions, otherwise known as dysfunctional families. People who leave the church end up with huge chips and a need to convert others to their new found philosophy. (137)

It struck me as mildly ironic that this brother-in-law was so quick to chastise Brad Morin for not letting Chris Morin make his own choices. It seemed to me that the brother in law was really selling Chris Morin short, as if he were a child who couldn’t think for himself and had to be talked into coming to the same conclusion his brother had.

But in my opinion, the most offensive missive came from a brother who wrote the following to both Brad and Chris:

The thing that scares me most is your current beliefs. Those beliefs have the capability to destroy me and my family, and anyone who subscribes to those beliefs… You must not say anything to my wife or children about Joseph Smith or any prophet of the church, or any church leader or any church writings, or any church history… We read scriptures in our house. We say prayers in our house. If you visit us you will observe at least one of those maybe both. If we visit your houses we expect to be able to give thanks for the food and to read scriptures even if in our bedroom… If you cannot make this promise to me or if you make this promise to me and break it, my family will not associate (Face to face) with yours… Is this drastic? You bet it is. I have everything I have ever wanted, to loose [lose], if I am deceived. (139)

The pervasive fear that comes from these emails is very surprising to me, but what surprised me even more was when one of Brad’s very intelligent and fair-minded friends produced his own reasons for staying faithful to the church. And then he followed up by stating, “…if it isn’t true, I don’t want to know it” (149). Brad Morin compared this statement to the attitude some people have about not wanting to face reality, particularly when it’s distasteful. He likened it to someone who doesn’t want to know they have cancer. It just feels better to ignore evidence and pretend that everything is okay.

Things I didn’t like about this book

I didn’t really care for the way this book was laid out. The brothers took turns writing chapters and include boxes with quotes in them, endnotes, and various other distractions. I found this layout particularly hard to deal with when I read the heavier chapters that had to do with the church’s doctrine and history. However, even though I found the endnotes a bit distracting, I do think they will be very helpful to people who want to verify research. The list of references is chock full of resources.

I also felt that the writing could have been more polished. This book reads as if the two authors sat down and typed it out without having an editor wade through some of the redundancies. Consequently, some of the material is wordier than it needs to be, particularly in the sections where letters and emails are quoted.

Overall

I think this book may very well be offensive to some readers. If I shared it with my husband’s daughters, for instance, they would probably dismiss it as being full of lies. On the other hand, I don’t know that this book would appeal so much to the casual reader, either, since it takes a somewhat academic approach. I think this book will be most valuable to readers who have been in the Morin brothers’ shoes at some point and have some understanding of where they’re coming from.

Sadly, this book has probably already been labeled as “anti-Mormon” literature by some of the people who might benefit from it the most. In case anyone is wondering, I didn’t get the feeling that these authors had a chip on their shoulders or an axe to grind regarding Mormonism. They even state several times that they value many things about the church and still live the clean lifestyle favored by church members, minus the temple garments. But I fear that some people will still want to dismiss it because it’s a book about two guys who fell away from their religious beliefs… beliefs that were chosen for them before they had the chance to decide for themselves.

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