Imagine living in a parallel universe where everything was exactly the same as the universe we live in except that the socially accepted norm for marriage was homosexuality. Imagine that heterosexual marriage was frowned upon, and that the current civil rights movement involved trying to achieve marriage equality not for homosexuals but for heterosexuals. If you are among the very few who have homosexual tendencies, you might feel comfortable living in such a universe. If you are like the majority of people, though, you’d find that being a straight person living in a gay world would be very uncomfortable.
One could argue that heterosexuality is “normal” and that homosexuality is “abnormal,” since fewer than 10% of people are strictly homosexual and only about one third of people admit to being not exclusively heterosexual. One could argue that society’s preference for heterosexual marriage and its disdain or fear of homosexual marriage merely reflect the natural proclivities of the majority of the population. Equal rights aside, that seems like a perfectly reasonable and perfectly defensible position. The problem comes, however, when we apply the same reasoning to society’s preference for monogamy.
I was 23, so I don’t feel I can definitely say that I married too young. But I feel I probably married too inexperienced. I can count on one hand the number of girls I dated seriously–that is, those to whom I felt able to say “I love you.” And on both hands the number of girls I dated at all. I didn’t know myself very well. And I feel I didn’t know much about life, to say nothing of girls.
But I’m not going to blame the dissolution of my marriage on either my age or inexperience. Not that I necessarily hold them blameless, but rather that’s not the topic I want to address today. Instead, I want to talk a little about one particular member of my personal ancient pantheon of girls I dated. She was 22 years old and she was my Greek Goddess.
For anyone who may be attracted to polyamory and only scared off because of the fear of jealousy, I would like to point your attention to a great blog post about one woman’s experience with jealousy. I would stop writing right here and just say go read it. But since I know there will be some who won’t click on the link, I’ll just summarize a few things here. But don’t let my commentary fool you. Go read it anyway. Seriously. I’ll wait.
If you’ve ever been a kid with exactly one friend, you might be familiar with a feeling of horrible jealousy you might get when your friend decides to play with someone else, and not you, on the playground one afternoon. You might mope and kick rocks and cast sad looks in their direction and get angry that they aren’t noticing how clearly upset you are not to be included. Your attention is focused entirely on the fun you aren’t having.
I stumbled upon a great post this morning about the social imprint of monogamy and the unachievable ideal prevalent in society of finding your “one and only” when you marry. The post in question was titled How I Know My Wife Married the “Wrong” Person. It is clever and insightful about the ways in which many of us enter marriage without really understanding it, and about how marriage can never meet up with the fantasies we entertain about it in our minds.
Unfortunately, in trying to explain where we go from there, the author fails to continue to use the critical thinking that got him that far in the discussion. Or, perhaps more accurately and more fairly, in listing some alternatives to the problem of what to do when we find ourselves in a marriage that doesn’t meet our admittedly unrealistic expectations, he is either blind to or conveniently dismissive altogether of one of the most practical solutions to this problem: that of polyamory.
I was minding my own business when without having had any other recent conversation even remotely related to the topic, I received the following text from my mother. “Where do feelings of love come from if there is no God?”
On the surface, this is a very simple question, and one that has a very interesting answer. But as I thought about how I would answer it, I realized what it was she was really asking. She wasn’t interested in discussing evolutionary biology. She wasn’t interested in discussing brain chemistry. This wasn’t a question she wanted answered. This was, in her mind, proof of God. After all, since God is love, it only follows that the undeniable existence of love proves the existence of God.
A lot can happen in a year. Some years seem to pass without much changing. Other years, you’d never guess at the beginning of it that your life would be completely different 365 days later. For me, this past year has been of the latter variety.
Today is the 365th day I’ve been keeping this blog. I started it because I felt like I needed a safe place to work out my thoughts and my confusion. I was just coming to the realization that the church I had believed in my entire life was not true. I was beginning to question almost everything that I thought I once knew. In the past 365 days, I’ve figured out quite a few things, changed my life in several fundamental ways, and confronted new questions that I’m still struggling to figure out. I thought I’d take a moment today to highlight a few of those things.
Mormon scripture states that members should be tithed, that they “shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually” to the church. In order for members to qualify as worthy of god’s stamp of approval, i.e., to receive a recommend to enter a Mormon temple, they must indicate in a private interview with their ecclesiastical leaders that they pay “a full tithe.”
But what is a full tithe? Unfortunately, the church doesn’t give very much more clarification than what is stated in the scriptures. The word “interest” has been defined to mean “income,” but beyond that, the members are left to themselves to determine exactly how to calculate what counts as income and what doesn’t. It’s hard to blame the church authorities for not wanting to create a tome equivalent to the US tax code to clarify the tithing code. For one thing, it would encourage pharisaic dedication along with its attendant loopholes. But perhaps even more convincingly, by making a statement that determining the amount to be paid as tithing by each member is a decision to be arrived at by the member in consultation with god, my guess is that the amount donated is, on average, higher than it would be if they published a set of guidelines.
I was talking with a Mormon I had met only that day. This was late December of last year, and my mother had asked me to meet with him because he was fairly knowledgeable about some of the problems with early Mormon church history and she was hoping that he’d be able to address some of my concerns about the veracity of the truth claims of the church. After all, she reasoned, if he knew some of the same facts that I did, but he still believed in the church, maybe I could find a way to return to faith as well.
We talked for quite some time; about three hours if I recall correctly. At one point I stated that I had started the wrong way round: I had tried first to determine if Mormonism was true when it would have been an easier process if I had instead asked if there was even a god. I explained that I had considered myself agnostic, but was beginning to identify more and more with the atheist label. When he heard that, he responded, “Wow. You have more faith than I do.” His point was, I think, that it would be just as difficult for me to disprove god’s existence as it would be for him to prove it, and that when anyone settled on the question of god’s existence, they were adopting a position where they take their desire for the result as the premise from which they begin their arguments. I remembered that in the preceding months I had also been frustrated with this idea of the fruitlessness of trying to prove or disprove god. Until I realized that it didn’t matter to me that it couldn’t be proved either way; at some point I finally understood that I simply couldn’t be bothered with the question.
Mr. Wonderful is very career-minded. He has been working on advancing his career throughout the years of his marriage to Girlfriend, and she has been supportive. As good Mormons, they made sacrifices so that they could live the ideal: that the husband and father would provide for the family, and the wife and mother would remain at home to nurture the children. This has been their arrangement for the decade or so since they have had children.
It only seems natural, then, that on Mother’s Day, Mr. Wonderful would take a moment to express his appreciation to his wife for her devotion to the children in particular and to the family in general. The message he actually delivered, though, was somehow wide of the mark. He essentially told her that she was an unfit mother.
I recently read a post on Deborah Mitchell’s great blog Kids Without Religion that discussed god as the enabler in a relationship with an addictive partner. In talking about how a politician named Mark Sanford took his recent win in the polls–despite having been involved in scandal after scandal that should have proven to the public that he was unfit for office–as a sign from god that he had been saved from his repeated sins, she wrote:
How convenient. His god forgives him. Again. And again. Like many folks, Sanford’s an addict and his god, the enabler. That’s the reality. Sanford knows that he’ll be forgiven as many times as he needs it. And God doesn’t even exact a punishment. Instead, he rewards him. “Saves” him, whatever the heck that means. How does Sanford know that he’s been saved? Did God tattoo a stamp on his derriere ‘SAVED!”? Or does he just know he’s saved because he’s won the race and he’s in his happy place? (The answer is the latter.)
She goes on to talk about the importance of taking responsibility for our own actions and not just continuing to harm others, trusting that in the end god will make everything right again. It’s a really great point and a good read as well. What really caught my eye, though, was slightly off-topic from her main points. The idea of finding signs from god in unlikely places kind of intrigued me, and I wanted to discuss that a little bit. As a Mormon, I knew the feeling of looking for god’s approval in signs similar to Sanford’s electoral victory.