Sunday, August 08, 2010

Is my life a one-hour TV episode written by God?

This week, California's Proposition 8 was overturned by the federal circuit judge.  I'm not any kind of legal scholar, but my understanding is that the judge basically ruled that with regards to marriage, the "all people get equal protection under the law" provision of the Constitution trumps the abilities of even a voting majority.  In effect, the government should be "faith neutral" when considering civil marriages. 

It's intimidating to think of the volume of words being written about this decision across America.  This entry isn't an examination of society or values or rights of marriage.  It's about a couple of Mormons I know.  Proposition 8 is irrevocably linked with the Church of Latter-Day Saints, owing to the tremendous amount of money contributed by church members to its passage (estimated between 50% and 75% of all contributions).

But this entry, like so many others, is really about sex.

Sex, you say?  Now I'm listening.

Allow me to set the stage: one of the most important guidelines to an LDS member is the Law of Chastity.  It covers "no sex before marriage", but it also covers "don't masturbate" and "don't have sex thoughts".  It also includes "homosexual impulses are not to be entertained".  The official doctrine is that the church welcomes homosexuals, as long as they don't do anything homosexual [men judging TV fashion shows or women liking football is OK, but you get on a watch list.  Women playing softball is forbidden!].

So the church says that it's OK to be gay and that God probably made you that way, but you really shouldn't act on it.  You know how poor golfers can get a really high handicap to allow their scores to "compete" with real golfers?  God does a similar thing with people's lives.  If you're really good at the game of life, God gives you an extra-special Platinum Level challenge: you don't get to have love and relationships as they feel natural to you.  You can go on living and breathing, but you REALLY should just try to accept that you were created with a massive "gotcha" and try really hard to ignore it and be like everyone else.  Unless you live in the Castro District -- then you should try hard NOT to be like everyone else.

It's confusing, but it's all explained in the manual.

Anyway, one of my Mormon friends doesn't particularly think gay people deserve to have their lives trampled on.  Predictably, she's treated as a bit of a radical.  She posted to her Facebook wall a press release from a similarly-radical Mormon pro-gay marriage group.  It's HERE.  I encourage you to read it for yourselves, but the group finds no conflict with the government saying there can be different kinds of families.  It correctly points out that the decision doesn't force the Mormon Church to perform homosexual marriage.

In the wake of her posting this, a friend of hers (not acquainted with me) began to deconstruct the ruling, citing legal principles, constitutional prerogatives, and church doctrine.  It spurred a 38-comment discussion under the posted item, with the norm of Facebook being 3 or 4 comments.  My friend explained that she used to hold absolute views, but she had since changed her mind, while the other Mormon lambasted anything that suggested that homosexuality mightn't be a bestial perversion created and punished by God.

In one of his final postings, he gave a personal example.  Allow me to quote:

I will give you a personal example: I find women very attractive. If I didn't have a testimony of the gospel I would be shagging every attractive woman that came along. However, I have a testimony of the gospel and I know that this would be an act outside of the bounds of chastity that the Lord has set. Even though there is a carnal desire, I must overcome that with the spiritual man. It is a trial in my life. The same is true for someone who is attracted to a member of the opposite sex. They are not shunned from the church, but they must keep their actions within the bounds the Lord has set in order to participate actively in ordinances and church callings.

The burden of guilt and shame would be lifted from those individuals if they stopped wallowing in their sins and sought forgiveness through the Atonement. I don't have shame and guilt from my attraction to women, but I would if I were committing adultery. What these activists are looking for is a false forgiveness. They are looking for an easy way out by asking the Lord to change His definition of sin to meet their desires. It doesn't work that way for any of us. We must seek the Lord's will, not ask Him to agree with ours.

At the root of this comment is a position I can understand: if God created an enduring set of rules for how we should behave, then it behooves us to meld to his will, rather than trying to play religious lawyer to abrogate "bad" behavior.  The driving force behind why we have to listen to God is that he is infinitely good and infinitely eternal.  Definitely someone we should pay attention to!

But I'm WAY creeped out that this guy would be a wandering rapist if it hadn't been God watching him.  All that desire for women is ONLY kept in check by faith. This is absolutely terrible, if true.  It's like saying the only reason he doesn't steal candy bars is because a mall cop might be watching.

It feels like this man is afflicted by a thin and meager sense of empathy.  Empathy -- despite what we hear about whenever new Supreme Court justices are being confirmed -- is essential to being a human.  It is the ability to understand from outside of one's self.  A person without empathy will steal a candy bar without a second thought.  It's there, they want it, end of story.

With nascent empathy, God becomes a handy authority figure.  Since God sees everything everywhere, it's easy to see one's own actions from his view.  The candy bar thief wants to take the candy, but knows that God is watching.  It's a shortcut to developing entropy for others, the final stage where the thief realizes that the store owner is trying to make a living, and continual stealing will drive the store out of business.  No more candy then!

And even though I have shunned God in most degrees, I still manage to avoid "shagging" every woman I see.  How can such a thing be?  Is it some sort of atheistic miracle?  Since I reject the Mormon faith, shouldn't I be free to indulge in all the dark desires that existence offers?  Having sex with fish, mocking ugly babies, pushing kittens over, taking homeless people's signs: shouldn't I be an evil maniac who feeds his every desire?

Coming back to the original point, I don't see how anybody but a masochist would agree to be in a religion that suggests you deny everything that you understand about romance and love.  If I were part of a church that made me suppress my desire for women because the only approved pairings were with armadillos, I'd be a fool.

All jokes aside, if I were in a church that browbeat my "sinful" attraction to women and informed me that I could only ever be complete and whole if I had a sexual and romantic relationship with a man (an idea that I find personally unsatisfying), it would probably kill the last of my self-esteem and joy to accept "their" judgment over my life.

This seems as good a place as any to say that Utah is among the leading states (number one in 2006) in suicides for young men.  There is a history of both high- and low-profile suicides of gay men.  One was on July 19th, of a man who had once signed up to be interviewed for the critical documentary "8: The Mormon Proposition" about the LDS church and the California vote.  Another man, on the eve of California Proposition 22 in 2000, went to the steps of his local Mormon building, pinned a "do not resuscitate" note to his chest and shot himself in the head. 

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