Response to “What’s Wrong with the LDS Church” – Why Those Who Believe(d) Speak Out

In her post “What’s Wrong with the LDS Church” Fat N’ Fitness blogger Kyli Summerhays has some things to say about misconceptions surrounding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

While I believe the post is well-intentioned and well thought out, it had its own misconceptions about why people leave or speak out against the church. I would like to break down her thoughts here and hopefully provide some clarity and feedback for those both within and outside of the LDS Church.

“You know what I think the biggest issue with the LDS Church is?? It’s true.”

I firmly believe the LDS Church uplifts lives and can be a good moral bearing. The church does many good things all over the world, from humanitarian aid to refugee placement to advocating for immigration reform.

Whether it is objectively true, in a scientific sense of the word, is admittedly, a more difficult argument to make – but I strongly believe if it moves someone spiritually and makes them a better person they should hold to the iron rod for all it’s worth.

“When in the history of mankind has something that’s right been free from persecution? Never.”

If persecution is the metric for truth or righteousness, then the LGBT community has claim to a lot more of it than the LDS Church. Or Jewish people. Or black people. While it’s true the LDS Church has had some terrible patches of persecution – especially in its early history (being driven from homes multiple times) – both historically and in modern times, other groups have had it far worse.

Additionally, other groups have also faced persecution – from religions such as Satanism to organizations like the KKK. Are we to believe that because of their persecution they are also right and true? Many things, both good and bad, face persecution. It’s not a reliable metric for finding truth and righteousness.

“We are supposed to have moments of misery, of pain and suffering, or severe temptation. We are supposed to feel lost and confused and question the things we are being taught. We are supposed to be hard on ourselves and get jealous or defensive. That IS the perfection of this gospel.”

I can agree with most of this to one degree or another. The real problem for many, especially those who leave or speak out against the church, is that it’s not merely a matter of “moments.” And it’s not merely a matter of being lost or confused. And it’s not just a matter of being hard on yourself.

The problem is that the pain and suffering is constant – and even more pronounced at church. The problem is not that they’re lost or confused, it’s that the church instills confusion or makes them feel misled.

The problem is not that they are hard on themselves, it’s that the church has cemented in their heads expectations of what people are supposed to be – from gender roles to beauty standards to church callings – and when people don’t live up to them they face social pressure from within the church and deep, internal shame for simply being who they are instead of who they are expected to be.

“We are NOT meant to always be happy. We are not meant to always make the best choices or feel 100% great about ourselves. Guess what guys, that’s not the LDS church creating those feelings…That’s a natural consequence of life. The LDS church is just an easy place to put the blame because there are standards and they ask you to live life in a certain way. This isn’t to be controlling or to be mean. It’s for your benefit.”

What happens when the place that is supposed to be your spiritual refuge, the sole place you should be able to find peace, becomes the very place you fear most because it fills you with anxiety, depression and dread? What happens when you start wearing two faces every day out of fear and shame: The mask of conformity you wear around church members and the person you really are?

These are the situations people deal with, and their desire to find spiritual peace is what ultimately leads them to leave the church or speak up. Simply put, for these people, church is not making them a better person, it’s making them worse – and their anguish takes them to dark places.

While I do not believe that it is the church’s intention, or the intention of any member, to be “controlling or mean,” the feelings of anxiety, depression, shame, and suffering ex-Mormons and members alike experience are, without a doubt, caused by the LDS Church.

The evidence for that is clear as day: Those who have suffered within the church have spoken up about it. Some have even described their suffering as spiritual abuse – on par with verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse. Because of this, those who have suffered often speak out against what they perceive to be harmful practices and beliefs – just as someone who suffered abuse at the hands of another would do to protect others.

We do not get to decide whether they have misattributed the source of their suffering or how deep and significant their suffering is. The only thing we get to decide is whether we will listen to them, accept them as they are, and help them heal – or continue waving away their pain as “a natural consequence of life.”

“So here it goes. My testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is that it’s true.”

It’s a beautiful testimony and I appreciate Kyli sharing it. I have no idea if she will ever read this post, but I wish her the best and hope that she is able to take something good away from it like I took away from hers.

I hope ex-Mormons will look at Kyli’s post and understand that there is no malice behind church leaders or members – they’re all just trying to do what they believe is good and right (isn’t everyone?).

I hope active Mormons who see my post will better understand where ex-Mormons are coming from, why they leave, and why there is sometimes lingering anger and resentment that can take years to heal.

I hope those in the middle are able to find a place they belong.

I hope we are all able to find peace, wherever it comes from.

Bullying, suicide and animalism: A matter of control

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We aren’t just animals anymore. We can reason and understand. And, usually, we are no longer a slave to our urges.

Yet, when it comes to bullying our animal roots gets used as an excuse. “Bullying happens, people need to stand up for themselves. They need to speak up and put their foot down. It’s how, we as animals, are.”

Animals and us

Except it’s not. Animals flee. Animals can be submissive and meek. Not all animals are fighters. And when an animal that isn’t fit to fight goes up against an animal that is, the result is usually getting maimed or killed. And no matter how much physical training someone partakes in, there will always be those at a disadvantage. And that’s not including those with emotional or mental “shortcomings.” And no matter how much therapy, or how many drugs, some people will never be the outgoing, aggressive, confident type.

And even if that weren’t the case, even if people could train to their peak performance, do away with all physical limitations and psyche themselves into being aggressive, animalistic human beings, why would we want that?

Thanks to technology and science, we no longer conform to a “survival of the fittest” mold. We are beyond it. So why would we confine ourselves to such a basic, outdated way of living?

Suicide machine

What’s truly heartbreaking, and what truly shows some people have no idea of the breadth of human makeup and complexity of the human brain, is when people blame a bullying victim for their own suicide, writing it off as a simple choice the victim had to make and one they made poorly. This is justified by admitting that they, too, have thought about killing themselves before.

Indeed, who hasn’t? But there is a gigantic leap from thinking to doing. Someone who actually tries to go through with the act is wired fundamentally different than those who merely think about it:

The … person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.

The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

 Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be or you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains constant. the variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

 It’s not desiring the fall; it’s the terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

— David Foster Wallace

Suicide is the ultimate engagement of the flight response. Someone who attempts suicide often isn’t thinking in any sort of rational context, they are running on instinct — the same instinct that makes you remove your hand from a hot stove without even thinking about it.

Levels of instinct

“Flight or fight” is one of the absolute basic instincts we as human beings have — and one of the hardest to overcome. At one extreme we have suicidal people and at the other extreme we have people who kill their tormentors. Neither of these are acceptable outcomes.

I’ve been on both sides of the bully equation. I’ve been a bully and I’ve been the bullied, desperate for escape. I know it’s possible to overcome bullying tendencies. I also know that it’s possible to overcome suicidal tendencies and that things get better. But what I’ve discovered is that it is a lot easier to control bullying tendencies than it is to control the basic flight or fight response.

We’re not animals anymore, but there are still some things our brains have convinced us we need to run from or fight. I hope that eventually one of those things will not be our fellow man.

Live and let live: Religion, atheism, and being caught in-between

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Religion has been a part of human life in some form or another for at least 4,000 years. It has provided support for communities, given people a common cause to group around, and been a source of charity and service.

Yet, for those who do not belong to a religion or believe in a God, it has often been a source of pain and suffering. And certainly there have been a number of atrocities committed in the name of God.

The discord between these two groups, I think, doesn’t just stem from a fundamental communication problem, but a fundamental difference in the way both are wired.

A brain hardwired for God

Even 4,000 years later, it’s true that religion continues to be beneficial to humanity. Charity, social support during times of crisis, and a sense of purpose are just a few of the ways religion enriches the lives of many today. There are even indications that humans are hardwired for religion.

So it’s understandable when religious people get angry when Atheists attack their convictions with statements like “Your church isn’t true” or “God is a lie” and retreat into their trenches, often destroying all hope for fruitful and progressive discussion.

But make no mistake, there are certainly things that need to be discussed. While people should be able to believe what they want I firmly believe they must square those beliefs with facts. And the fact of the matter is that religion has also contributed to some truly gut-wrenching things in our modern day: rape culture, suicides and homelessness (especially among gay youth), mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, and more.

The ways that religious denominations contribute to these and other pressing issues deserve criticism and discussion. And religious people need to understand that criticisms are not a personal attack, or even necessarily an attack on their church.

I’d be happy to see religion flourish more, but I want to see it happen while lessening the damage and hurt it unintentionally contributes to for both faithful and non-faithful people.

But while some of the problem is communication, the other problem is simply how differently we are wired — which never appears to be taken into account on either side.

While religious people may be hardwired for faith, non-believers are just as likely to be hardwired differently. Just as the idea that someone who attends church is an unintelligent sheep is grossly inaccurate, the idea that someone who doesn’t want to go to church is evil or amoral is flat-out wrong and can be incredibly damaging.

In religion, but not of religion

When I was young, church taught me about the golden rule, being thy brother’s keeper, turning the other cheek and judging not lest ye be judged. I feel that I learned some of my most cherished ideas about humanity and life from church.

But even when I was young, I felt oddly out of place in church settings. The older I got the more my anxiety in church settings grew. I felt constantly on guard — that I could not be myself. I was constantly wearing a mask and it was suffocating me. I began to drift away from the church. My family, many of my peers, and my church leaders were understandably upset by this development. After all, my very soul was at stake.

Church leaders handed me responsibility after responsibility, trying to give me a sense of purpose and place within the church. Unfortunately, these responsibilities only compounded the stress I already felt from church and, truthfully, pushed me farther away.

The more I stressed out, the more I found myself thinking, “Is this what God would really want from me? Isn’t church supposed to be a place of serenity and happiness rather than protocol, stress and anguish?”

My parents tried to prod me to attend services. When gentle pokes didn’t work, I was given ultimatums. When those just pushed me away further, they tried gifts and niceties.

The disapproval about my drifting from friends and family was palpable and created a vicious cycle. I could not be at peace in church — and it appeared I could not be at peace outside of church either. The stress of the paradox furthered the anxiety, depression, guilt and anger issues I had been experiencing in church for years. I had already been self-mutilating throughout the latter half of my high school years as a form of self-medication. Shortly after high school I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Up until this point I had tried to maintain some sort of church presence, even if it was a limited one, partly to placate my family and partly because I felt it was what I was supposed to do. However, I soon realized I could not live a double-life. I finally made it clear that I didn’t want or plan to continue attending church.

Immediately, there was an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t feel like I had to hide myself anymore. It was like finally breathing after spending 19+ years suffocating.

Technically, it was a great first step toward sobriety and a healthy life.

However, I still felt a lot of guilt over who I was because of my upbringing. It would be several more years before I’d begin to heal the remaining emotional scars with therapy and finally stop using alcohol and drugs, becoming truly okay with the person I am.

Live and let live

I know my family and friends always wanted what was best for me. The things they did came from a place of love, but ultimately also of ignorance about who I was. They were so worried about my soul that they didn’t understand the way they were damaging me.

I often wonder how differently my life would have been if I had been nurtured to be myself, simply be a good person, and make the most of whatever it is I do believe in. Would I have ever turned to drugs or alcohol? Would I be further along in my career?

Religion can be an incredible force for good and, I believe, even necessary for some people. But just as it may be hardwired into some people, I think there are others who are simply not wired for religion. I hope someday people on both sides will understand to “live and let live” and embrace those who live differently and have found their own way to truth, happiness and health.

More than a frame of mind: Misconceptions about mental illness

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When I discussed misconceptions about drugs and addiction awhile back I brought up mental illness — which can be a factor in drug use. Recent comments I’ve seen and heard made me start thinking of misconceptions people seem to have about mental illness as well. Misconceptions like…

…it’s all in your head

“Why do you do this to yourself?” “Snap out of it.” “You need to cheer up.” These are common refrains I hear people say to those suffering from mental illness.

While it’s true that mental illness primarily involves the brain, it’s not all in someone’s head.

Mental illness is caused by a variety of factors. Hereditary factors can play a large part in mental illness, running in families and leaving certain people pre-disposed to developing a mental illness. Biological factors — such as brain chemistry, abnormal brain function, and hormones — can also contribute to mental illness. Environmental factors, such as psychological traumas and stress, also have a role.

Where mental illness is present, many of these factors exist intertwined — but the most important thing to remember is that it’s not something that can simply be willed away and it’s not a character flaw.

…all you need is love

Some seem to believe that love, attention, and a helping hand will “fix” someone with a mental illness. Others believe that a person simply needs to learn to love themselves in order to be fixed. Often these people will get disgruntled when their efforts fail to fix the problem — sometimes even complaining to the mentally ill person about the lack of improvement.

Love is certainly helpful to people with mental illness, but it’s not a solution. And people should never negatively disparage a mentally ill person, especially not one dealing with depression or suicidal tendencies. Negative criticism from those that are supposed to care about them most can undo the improvements a mentally ill person has made or make them feel even worse about themselves and their situation.

Instead, people with mental illness should receive positive reinforcement for the progress they’ve made — and those around them should be prepared for years of patient love. But even then, they’re largely only dealing with the symptoms. In most cases, in order to really cure a mental illness professional help is necessary.

…professional help makes everything better

When a mentally ill person starts receiving professional help, whether with medications or therapy, people expect them to miraculously change over a short amount of time.

In truth, it can take years for a person’s mental illness to dissipate. Medications can help level a person out, but generally it also takes quality psychiatric care to get to the root of the mental illness and begin to fix it — a process that can take a very long time. And any new negative experiences can set back the process.

This is why it’s so important for friends and family to be patient with those with mental illness and positively reinforce them, while understanding that a lack of improvement is not a failing of anyone — least of all the mentally ill individual.

…progress is a straight, upward slope

This is perhaps the biggest misconception I see concerning mental illness. Even once a person gets help and is making visible improvements, people expect the progress to be a straight, upward slope with no pitfalls or setbacks.

Climbing out of mental illness is much like climbing a mountain: There are ups and downs, high winds, bad weather, exhaustion and a variety of other factors to deal with. As previously noted, negative experiences can stunt or set back the progress made. And while progress can certainly be rewarding for the mentally ill individual, it can also be physically and mentally exhausting — especially if they’re confronting deep-seated issues for the first time in their life.

A true helping hand

A mentally ill person is not the way they are by choice. It’s something they are constantly battling every second of every day — every moment you aren’t witnessing the symptoms of the mental illness is a victory that person has made over their illness. But the war is long and the illness is tireless. Progress can be made, but setbacks are inevitable.

When such setbacks occur or when the illness gets the best of the individual, make sure you are a bastion of patience and hope rather than negativity and disappointment. That is truly helpful.

Drug Abuse and Getting Clean: Common Misconceptions

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Nancy Reagan taught us all that drugs are bad. D.A.R.E. programs taught us that users are criminals, they are bad people. No one ever bothered to tell us that the vast majority of them were in need of help from a mental health system that largely doesn’t exist.

DeBie Hive

I’ve seen a lot online lately about drugs. From welfare drug testing to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death to the fact that heroin use is up. I’ve also seen a lot of misconceptions about drug users and addiction. I’d like to clear some of that up.

Drug use = addiction

While it’s true that most drugs have the potential for addiction, from cigarettes to heroin, not everyone who uses drugs is an addict or has a problem. Plenty of people imbibe beer or smoke marijuana without it ever becoming a physical or psychological issue.

Drug users are stupid

There’s no two ways about it, people with higher IQs are more likely to use drugs, undoing the notion that drugs are a fool’s vice. The correlation isn’t completely clear, but experts note that smarter people are often under more pressure to perform and some may also become easily bored and seek the extra stimulation drugs offer.

I’ve also observed that, the smarter you are, the easier it is to become disillusioned or depressed about the world around you. Drugs can be an alluring coping mechanism.

Drug users just want to get high

While it’s true that the high is the reason people begin taking drugs, it’s really not as simple as that. For many drug users, getting high is a means to an end. Drugs seem like a good way (at least in the beginning) to deal with life’s rigors or one’s own inner demons. It’s a fact that drug use is higher in the mentally ill and those who go through traumatic experiences.

There’s also been a rise in prescription painkiller addiction, which may stem from doctors prescribing them more to help patients with pain. Some people have a higher risk of addiction due to genetics, so even something that might seem harmless at first can turn into a serious problem.

Drug users can stop anytime they want

Drug addiction can, sometimes literally, be crippling. And addicts know this. An addict may very well want to clean up and get help, but continues using because it’s the only way to remain functional at work or get through job interviews.

Withdrawal (essentially what “rehab” does) is a MONTHS-long process, and when you have to support yourself or your family, cleaning up just isn’t an option. And even if you manage to get help, rehab (if you can afford it) mostly treats the symptom. Until the root cause is dissected and patched with therapy, there’s a higher chance of relapse. And quality therapy is not something addicts often have access to.

If they do manage to get cleaned up though, the battle still isn’t over. The battle is NEVER over. An addict will be an addict their entire life, even if it’s been 5, 10, or 50 years since they last used.

There can also be social consequences to cleaning up. In order to decrease the chance of a relapse, a person may need to cut ties with close friends and family. If they don’t have a strong social network of sober people to rely on when they take such a step, this can also leave them emotionally vulnerable — which can lead to a relapse.

Drug addicts on welfare are moochers

There is a misconception that there are a lot of drug users who use welfare — and that they use welfare money to buy more drugs.

First of all, the number of drug users on welfare is extremely low and screening costs taxpayers far more than the amount saved in denying benefits to the few who do use.

Secondly, welfare is, in a way, the closest thing the government currently has to “drug rehabilitation.”

As I said above, addicts need drugs to function properly. Without their daily fix, survival is practically impossible. For the insanely low amount of drug users who actually use welfare, it could be helping them survive (whether they use welfare for food, shelter, drugs, etc.) as they attempt to rehabilitate or try to hold down a job.

Remember, for an addict, drugs are as physically necessary as food.

Panhandling homeless people will just spend their money on alcohol and booze

This one isn’t necessarily a misconception as much as a misunderstanding. Drugs — especially alcohol and cigarettes — can be a survival tactic for homeless people. I once heard someone mention that they couldn’t understand why a homeless person would buy cigarettes or booze before buying food.

Here’s the reason: Food doesn’t last long when you have no way to store or cook it. People with homes take refrigerators, stoves and microwaves for granted. Cigarettes last longer than food and can suppress appetite, which makes the little food one is able to scrounge go a lot farther on a lot less cash.

As for alcohol: Everyone knows that it makes you feel warmer (even though it really does the opposite). That can make sleeping and surviving on the cold streets seem a little less harsh. And, for some, alcohol can also help suppress appetite.

The other thing to keep in mind is that those who are mentally ill (and therefore at a higher propensity for addiction) are also more likely to become homeless. It is hard to survive on the streets when you can’t function properly — making it an awful place to get sober.

Drug users are lowlifes and I certainly don’t know any

You might be surprised just how many addicts you know. Most of them hide their addiction — due to shame and social stigma — while they work to support themselves and/or their family.

Right now, in America, there is no easy way for addicts to get cleaned up — especially if they’re on their own or a family breadwinner. Employers will not allow employees to take months off to get cleaned up and there is no real government program (that i know of) that will help support an addict (and their family) while they get sober.

But these people are everywhere. They’re your friends, family, and coworkers. And they’re not bad people.