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Grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints and Roman Catholic traditions, including a stint at a Catholic school; somewhat sadly, before the point at which young women (people - not the misogynist Mormon class) wore kilts. Attended church until a teen, but held atheist sentiments from a young age, despite being in a family full of believers. This is a place for my thoughts regarding religion on both a personal level and relating to the world, of which I am a member... And Mormons say journals are a good thing :)

June 1, 2007

Raving Review

Ex-Mormon, written by C.L. Hanson, is a personable novel in 1st person, with multiple vignettes. Reading like a journal, with a progression from tween-hood, through university and missions, to being a post-Mormon adult and through the experiences of particular family members, and their families and so-on, it is a poignant look at LDS life.

There are many names used throughout the book, making it difficult to tell who's who (much like life in a Mormon community) A list of all the characters and their ties to others is included in the back of the book (which I didn't notice until *after* reading the manuscript). The novel opens with a reference to “green Jell-o”, a stereotypically Mormon delicacy. It continues, from the first page and throughout, to illustrate another facet of LDS culture; children who do not have the means, due to adult intervention, to take part in activities done by others their age – such as flirting with boys – leaving them to playing out these fantasies through Barbie dolls. The consequences for this overt intrusion over every aspect of their childrens' lives has more dire results for one person.

Discerning Doctrine

One character found it “painful to force myself to look away from all of the evidence presented in History class about how the Native Americans had migrated to the New World across the Bering Straits and to convince myself that I 'knew' that the BOM's explanation. was true” (For me it was the opposite) There is a struggle between the secular and what is often seen to be sacred, with young impressionable people being placed in a situation with no clear answers. Upon making a decision, for one character, it means being kicked out of the home.

A character had an annotated version of Alice in Wonderland and upon reading it, was “amazed... that anyone could read it without” as it, like the Book of Mormon, was founded upon historically situated 'insider' information. This character felt shameful for not being able to derive pleasure or glean some sort of understanding from an ancient text. Ex-Mormon contains insight more readily available to an insider (or ex-insider), however due to my limited exposure, especially as I became a youth, there were facets of the text which were beyond my comprehension. Other books referred to, such as Charly, were only recognizable since I had done a random search on Deseret Books in the past. Other Mormonism's are more universal, such as going to University to get your 'Mrs.' degree, class biases and favouritism between members, and reading or doodling in church. Being unsure of ones faith is a common issue which is a major theme in the book.

One character didn't “feel the spirit” when listening to the prophet, nor liked the long, tiresome meetings after more meetings, where people are pressured to give a testimony even if they don't personally believe (Pretty much how I felt in church) She was driven to gain one, however was lead to feel like she had a personal weakness when she did not feel the 'burning in her bosom'. A quote is telling of her state, and strife to better herself; “this level of interest seemed to come so naturally to certain people when no matter how much effort I put into it, I couldn't seem to work up the enthusiasm for this sort of thing... Other people, including almost all of the boys, were dozing or doodling on their programs”

Sex and Sex

Despite their seemingly irreverent behaviour, males are placed on a pedestal. There is a focus on “Boys, boys, boys” in this book, as is the case in Mormon chapels, where women and their wants are deregulated to males' adventures. When imagining her non-Mormon friend as one, she recoiled and “wanted to see her in... her natural habitat, on a hockey rink playing rough and wild against a bunch of boys”. I have little experience playing sports in general, let alone at church - having been to one ward baseball activity and another for bowling (but that's not a real sport) – but most sports, like other activities, are sex segregated. I'd bet money (since I'm not Mormon, I can) you won't see any women at the Wednesday night basketball game. Only in fantasy would males “agree... to do all of the cooking and cleaning”

Female activities are filled with gender stereotyping. A leader in the Young Women's group. She was newly graduated from the program herself after a Happy Mormon Temple Wedding and was meant to act as a positive example for the younger females; however her discussions on doing home-making duties bored the protagonist (much like I remember feeling in church) Female children use dolls to enact the ditching of a friend, complete with pushing one into the 'pool' (Hey, that's not CTR!) Other non-LDS-like female behaviours include the real-life ditching at mall; an incident where chapel-going girls shown to be sneaky and untruthful and where “the non-Mormon attendee “hadn't been any worse then the rest... even though [they] had more truth”

The Molly Mormon types are proven to be lesser than non-Mormons when it comes to true compassion outside the chapel doors. Two sisters fight on Sunday over clothes and the one deemed to have disrupted familial harmony is forced to wear a hideous green dress. A Peter Priesthood man repeatedly cheats on his wife, but a couple who “lived in sin” as unmarried have more fidelity, showing the hypocracy of 'family values'.

Sex rarely discussed, and when so is said in code terms. A partially eaten donut is used to symbolize a female who is not a virgin, essentially stating that nobody would want her. Masturbation is referred to as “this business” or “taking care of this little problem”. Analogies like “petting” are used to disgust youth by conjuring up images “like something you would do with a dog”; essentially a form of emotive control. It is often assumed that the boys are the ones who pressure the girls to have sex, but this is not always the case. Sexual activity occurs within the sacred confines of the church, with an “uplifting experience” at a Youth Conference - among many other things, in many other places - showing how, despite doctrine, members will and do use theirs. I never went to Youth Conference and had 'dated' other people before I was sixteen, being “rebellious and... refus[ing] to go to church things” like many Mormon-raised males, such as Rex, a charismatic character many ex-Mormons (including myself) can relate to.

Church Criticism

The female characters, especially the 'popular' ones who often are children of parents with prominent callings, are not emblematic of church doctrine. They act catty at functions, reminding me of the behaviours of certain people at my public, very non-LDS, school. I found the same was true among some adult members, causing me to further distance myself from the LDS culture, and the same seems to be the case for some characters; one is judged for nothing more then not abiding the Word of Wisdom (ever hear of Free Agency?) to the extent that they feel uncomfortable coming to church.

People without children, or those with “only three” kids, can be seen as outsiders; however having many kids is not a good idea if you cannot take care of them, such as seen with the ward family who comes to church in a 10-person van wearing second-hand clothes or the 7 kid family in Saturday's Warrior (another Mormon-insider thing, that I wouldn't have known about without the Internet) Regarding the group in Saturdays Warrior who seem childfree, a philosophy that counters the LDS notion on what a family should be, one cast member says “the bad guys are good and the good guys are awful”. The 'good guys' include the father of the 7-kid family, who almost disowns the son for going on a road trip to San Francisco; despite the queer overtones of such a vacation, nothing is noted of this. The novel does include a lesbian couple (this part of the queer spectrum is often overlooked in LDS accounts, instead focusing on the male) who have a successful relationship, causing others to question their stereotypes regarding 'good' family.

Readers should take what is occurring in the moment (similar to how LDS strife to be now, to see themselves in the future) as there is much foreshadowing. In the end, many characters, like most readers, decide to leave Mormonism.

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