Monday, July 16, 2012

The Great Unknowing

Okay, I have to admit, this is the scariest blog post I have written yet. I can't remove it from me and I can't be funny about it. This is just me answering the questions that have been asked of me so much lately. And it's all the raw emotion I can't bring myself to say in regular conversation.

Here it is:

This is my story of why I decided to walk away from the LDS church.

I grew up in the LDS church, born and raised. Just like everyone around me. The small town I grew up in has about 8000 people in it. I don't know the exact percentages, and I don't want anyone to argue semantics with me, so I'm going to just say this: the incredible majority of people I knew were LDS. Everybody had a ward, everybody went to Sunday School. People were just expected to go. And in some ways, that was extremely unifying. And in others, it wasn't..

For those of you who don't know, the Mormon church doesn't just abide by the Ten Commandments. There's a whole other set of rules that I don't think that non-mormons aren't ever really conscious of. The most poignant example of this is the Strength of Youth pamphlet, which was passed around incessantly as I grew up.

This pamphlet is not malicious. It does not say anything horrible or inherently awful. It's the social stigma that follows this pamphlet that always made me uneasy. There are no hard and fast rules. Avoid extremes in appearance is one of the things outlined. But what is an extreme? I never thought anything I wore was particularly extreme. But I could see my mother's disappointment when I got ready in the morning. Black again? Striped tights? TO CHURCH? This frustrated me. I didn't have gauges, I didn't wear a Shakira onesie. But I always sort of wanted to.

Oh, but doesn't she look fine....
And that is a major problem. Because outlined in the doctrine is the underlying thought that even thinking about or wanting something against God's will is just as bad as committing the sin. I think it comes from this passage of the Bible, but I'm not particularly sure.

 Matthew 5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever alooketh on a bwoman to clust after her hath committed dadultery with her already in his heart.

That seems rather harsh. Espeically if it occurs straight across the board: if I wanted to get an extra piercing: UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE. If I wanted a tattoo: UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE. If I ever wanted to drink: UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE.

And these were all sins. Through out all of middle and high school, I was plagued by an awful guilt sprial. Mostly because what I wanted to be as an adult looked like this:

Open back dress? UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE.
Shocking gorgeous tattoo? UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE.

 And none of that was church sanctioned. Right about the age of fourteen, I began inhaling fashion magazines and books. They became my taste of what the "real world" was like. The real world was a magical place for me, and one I dreamed of often.

It was a place where I could wear clothing I liked and not be judged for it. Where I could have intelligent conversations with people about things that were taboo in Mormon culture. (Like sex or science, for example.) Where the second question out of people's mouths wasn't, "Are you LDS?" Where discussions about incredibly tedious parts of "the doctrine" didn't happen. (So if dressing immodestly is a sin, is being naked a sin? Or only being naked in public? Was my doctor seeing me naked a sin? What about changing in the school play....?)

I fell in love with the notion of this place and there were very key media influences that played into this.
-Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine
-Teen Vogue
-F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
-George Orwell's 1984

I began realizing that there were entire sections of life that I would miss out on if I never stepped outside of the Mormon religion. There was parts of me I could never understand if I never stepped outside.

So I started to. I began swearing in the 6th grade. I became friends with non-mormons, just to see what they were about. I made dirty jokes.

And I waited for the axe to fall. My religious upbringing had taught me that wickedness never was happiness, so there was no way I was going to escape unscathed. And for a while, I attributed what I should have realized was bad hormones and timing, to God's revenge upon me.

This was roughly how it went:

Try something new and slightly rebellious.

Feel bad.

Guilt myself into depression.

Attribute that depression to God's rage.

And then "repent".

Start over.

And then something happened. I don't know when exactly, but I started realizing that my depression and anxiety wasn't God's punishment. It was my body coping with all the shit that comes with puberty. It was me trying to get a grasp on how large and vast the world was. And I began realizing other things too.

This was right around the time that I met Chapman White. Chapman is one of my dearest and most loving friends, and I don't think he'll ever completely understand how much I love him.  Chapman is a proverbial rock. Nothing shakes him. And I began realizing that Chapman was one of the most open and loving and hardworking (I really could sing his praises for days.) people I knew. And shocker: he wasn't Mormon.


I know, this seems SO stupid, but it was a BIG deal to me. And suddenly my two worlds started to converge. I could have the future I wanted. I could be happy. If only I let this Mormon dream go.

But I couldn't. It was so deeply engrained. Stay religious, get married (IN THE TEMPLE), have six hundred babies, die surrounded by posterity. But I didn't want that.

I wanted to be sexy, successful, single. I wanted to gorgeous, and seductive. I wanted to be a film noir goddess. I wanted to be intelligent, extremely well-read. I wanted to be tactful and tolerant. I wanted to have a husband some day, but not necessarily children. And mostly I wanted the ability to say "I don't know." I wanted to be able to throw my head up to the sky and say, "I don't know how this got here." I wanted to be able to look at a person of another religion and say, "I don't know which of our attitudes is correct." I wanted to be able to hang out with goths, beatniks, muslims, ANYONE.

And I began realizing that life was all sensations and moments. And if I just embraced them, and stopped worrying about whether what I was doing was appropriate, I enjoyed it more. And I enjoyed the hell out of my last two years of high school. I really did. Me and my friends tried to rip Morgan from the ground up. We ran around in the rain, and swore and were just young, all over the floor.

And then I went to college. And I met some people. John Stuart and Lissa Jones and others. So many people who changed my reality significantly. John was gay. And John was fetching awesome. Lissa was crazy, but that's why I loved her. And I realized that I was okay with homosexuality. And that coffee didn't create murderers. And that not everyone who drank was an alcoholic who  beat their kids. And that I didn't want to be around depressing people. And slowly, but surely, the blinders started coming off..

And slowly, I became happier.

And then weirdly enough, I feel right back into that guilt spiral somewhere around November of last year. I looked around Cedar City and wondered why I hadn't been asked on a date in 2 years. And  I began to believe that my limited success in college and in dating had to be because of my lack of faith. Maybe this was payback for all those years. So I threw myself back into church, I met with my bishop constantly. I went to activities. I started trying to date LDS guys.

And when none of this worked out, I felt myself resenting the church. Because when I put minimal effort into the church, I expected minimal results. But there was another scripture that was troublesome. It said that God was bound to keep his promises when you lived your life accordingly. I had completely gotten my life together. I was temple worthy for the first time in years.

And I was miserable.. I found myself sitting in church meetings wishing I was playing video games. I was stressed and inconsistent.

And I started wondering if God kept his promises. And I began realizing that God had a pretty sweet system. People could look around at the beauty around them and say, "Oh God is truly wonderful. Look at how beautiful his creations are!". But if anything was unappealing or tragic, (cancer for example), God got off scotch-free. He didn't create evil things, those things were just bad luck. How convenient. And if he didn't answer your prayers? You probably weren't praying hard enough. Your life was kind of sucky? It was your fault for not taking the responsibility.

So if all of the bad things in my life were my fault, why not just take credit for the things that were good? Friends that loved me, grades I worked hard for, etc. What if God had nothing to do with anything?

What if God didn't exist?

I read Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God. I inhaled Richard Dawkins, starting with God Delusion. And science made a whole lot of sense. If everything just evolved, there was no right or wrong, per say. There were moral things, which have value, but no moral is more valuable than another. And homosexuality wasn't wrong, it was just an interesting gene. I've laid out the rules I live by in another post, so I won't go over them here. But I will say this:

I am an atheist. I am not an atheist because I am certain God doesn't exist. I don't know that, and I never expect to. I am an atheist because I believe that if we lived in a world where people truly believed that whatever happened on this planet began and ended with them, if there was no magical judgement chamber waiting for them at the end of their lives, they would work harder to be fulfilled. They would not spend time trying to get an invisible man to forgive them, they would ask forgiveness of each other. If they thought that this was it, they would work to ensure that they packed every moment they could full of joy.

And maybe they wouldn't wait around for God to cure them. Like my brother, or me, or any number of my friends that I won't mention here.

Maybe we could all just live. And love each other.

And maybe, when I told people I was an atheist, instead of being told I am a disappointment, I would be welcomed by the people I know.

I am happier here, as a an atheist than I have been in years. I wrote this post so that hopefully, people can understand.

All I ask, is that you be happy for me, too.
And keep that disappointment to yourself. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ideals of Beauty

So, I have a conversation fairly often about who the most beautiful women are. I think maybe it's because I'm very into fashion or work in theatre, but people seem to want to know. So here goes, my ideals of beauty in order.

I'll say right now, if I could be anyone, it would be Rooney Mara.

I think she's stunning, whether she looks like this. Or like this:

There is something about her that is just spectacular. And I don't know what it is. Closely following in second place is Cate Blanchett.

And then, Jessica Pare.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A New Beginning

I've just finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephan Chbosky. For the record, I read it in a span of exactly 9 hours, in which 4 of those I was working. I simply couldn't stop. When Lissa told me that it would change my life, I thought she was being dramatic, as Lissa is occasionally wont to do. (Or most of the time. It's okay, darling, it's why I love you. Also, because you're fabulous. Also, crazy.)

She wasn't.

Wallflower is a difficult pill to swallow, simply because Chbosky has bottled the way I thought as a teenager, the insecurities, the emotion, everything I felt then.

It was uncomfortable, I'll be honest. It was not pleasant to dredge up the feelings of vast insecurity and loneliness that occasionally plagued me in my lower teenage years. (Give me a break, I'm a month from being 20.) I remember what it was like, to wonder if I was normal, if these daydreams I had in my head made me crazy. Or the fact that sometimes, I just talked too much and I couldn't stop, even when I knew I was making everyone uncomfortable.

Charlie, the main, comments, "I stared at my reflection and the trees behind it for a long time. Not thinking anything. Not feeling anything. Not hearing the record. For hours. Something is really wrong with me. And I don't know what it is."

I remember that feeling, too.

But mostly, I sympathize with Charlie when he feels he can't be honest with anyone.
Near the end of the novel, he finally realizes that he has to, that we only have one chance to be honest and real with anyone.

I'm realizing that too.

So here it is, me being honest.

My name is Kristen. I'm 19. I like reading, thinking, debating, listening, and hanging out. I love movies, music, and above all, books. I love writing and being with people. I love history and theatre. I would love theatre more if it had less political bullshit.  I pride myself on being casual and open, and on my vocabulary and intelligence.

I like the way I look, although I often wish I could laugh without looking like a man. I'm much skinner than I used to be, but that has nothing to do with how much happier I am now. I don't know how I feel about God, although if he is up there, he has a lot to answer for. I think that people are inherently good, and left to their own, they usually do good things. People are incredibly noble, if you let them be.

I think undefined romantic relationships are underrated. I know my family will never know how much I love them. And I wish my friends knew how much I miss them, here in what I call the "lonely desert". And I hate living my life through a telephone. I miss the people in my life who have died.

Overall, I try to live my life by the rules Richard Dawkins wrote about:

-Do not do anything to anyone you would not apprieciate having done to you.
-In all things, strive to cause no harm.
-Trust your fellow human beings, your fellow living beings, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness, and respect.
-Do not overlook evil or wrongdoing, but always be willing to forgive things freely admitted and honestly regretted.
-Live live with a sense of joy, wonder, and boundless optimism.
-Always seek to learn something new.
-Test all things, always check your ideas againist the facts. Be ready to discard a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
-Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent. Always respect another's right to disagree with you.
-Form independant opinions on the basis of your own reason and expierience; do not allow yourself to be blindly led.
-Value the future on a timescale longer than your own.
-Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.
-Enjoy your own sex life, and leave others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none of your buisness.
-Do not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or sexual preference. 
-Question everything.

It's 6 am. I'm tired, and ready to sleep. Now only if my mind will let me.