Why I Can't Forgive the Mormons
Before I dive in, this post is not an attack on Mormons or Mormonism, but a movement in myself, a change in my relationship to patterns in my life that have caused me to suffer. It is about the way I relate to my past and the things that have happened to me and by me. It is part of the Buddhist process of purification which, according to Ken McLeod is "about changing our relationship with the reactive patterns that run our lives."
In last week's blog, I announced that I potentially have a tumor on my kidney and live-processed my emotional reaction to that discovery. Since that Thursday appointment, I have had a relatively peaceful existence with only the occasional stray thought to drag me back into negative spaces. What I have been experiencing, however, is intense and regular thoughts about completely unrelated events that occurred eighteen years ago. Mainly, they surround my first psychotic break in 2003 and the way the Mormon clergy treated me upon hearing my confession.
Upon multiple tellings of what happened--remember I thought I had been drugged and raped and was involved with several days of activities that were inspired by my psychosis--I felt I was forced to take upon myself full responsibility for everything that had happened to me. Not just the embarrassing things I did while delusional and hallucinating, but the perceived fact of being raped as well. It was all my fault and if I hadn't done the things I did then I wouldn't have been raped. I gradually reformed my narrative to reflect that guilt so as to ensure that when the church decided that God finally forgave me I could move on with my life and not have forgotten anything that might remain to stain my soul. There was no mention of seeing a doctor or a psychologist for what had happened.
The only referrals to health professionals were to Mormon sponsored therapists to help me stop the root cause of everything that happened, masturbation. Needless to say, I was not forthcoming in those sessions and terminated them quickly. I was also told to get a test for HIV--something that the clergymen did not know couldn't be done until months after the sex event in question--but not to consider the possibility of other STDs or physical repercussions of the perceived attack. The brainwashing of my guilt was so complete that when I saw an independent therapist a few years later he bought my story without the slightest question as to its reality and helped me try to work through my guilt rather than consider the signs that it might not have actually happened anywhere but in my diseased brain.
Another result of the clergy's handling of my confession was that it reinforced in my brain the impossibility of my being gay, a reality that required denying my pursuit of gay porn, gay sex acts, and men in general during my psychotic break. It would take me another year after this confession before I admitted to myself that I was gay and another year after that before I could reach the point where the brainwashing of my youth receded enough to allow me to break my ties with the church.
In almost every way possible, the clergy that I dealt with from the Mormon church made the trauma of my hallucinated rapes--there were more than one--far worse than if I had actually been raped. While there is no legal duty imposed on clergy in the United States--not even a minimal duty of care--I eventually came to believe that the clergy I dealt with had intentionally inflicted emotional distress in their treatment of me and their attempts to save my soul.
For the most part, I have managed to put this behind me, but these are the events which I find myself ruminating this week. Many in the west would say that I must forgive them for my own sense of well-being, for my own mental health. But forgiveness is a Christian concept and unique to a belief in a God full of grace. The basic idea is that a debt is incurred, whether through an actual transaction or through an act or failure to act, which creates an account on the part of a second party. By "forgiving" that debt the creditor loses his ability to collect on the owed funds. Christianity makes this loss of payment central to its teachings through the concept of Jesus Christ and God's grace which allows God to forgive a debt without requiring the full payment for it.
Forgiveness is Christian. I am not a Christian.
This creates two issues. First, and most facilely, I cannot forgive them because then I would be left with an outstanding account and the cost is too great. But the second reason, and most importantly, is the idea that relationships do not have to be founded on debt transactions as the Christian world believes. This second idea is more powerful because it eliminates the need for a savior and a God and places the demand for justice as a decision that each of us makes in our own hearts.
Did a harm occur to me and did the clergy of the Mormon church commit it? Yes, I believe so. But I do not believe that such an act necessarily gives rise to an expectation of compensation on my part. Neither does the state, by the way, as the US courts have repeatedly refused to impose any duties whatsoever--even the duty to report child sex abuse or murder--on clergy in the country, and even my theory of the intentional infliction of emotional distress was frowned on by a lawyer I contacted at one point. What the Mormon church did to me caused me a great deal of suffering but to think that they, therefore, owe me a debt, or that I would want to forgive that theoretical debt is silly.
What is less silly is how dwelling on what happened and feeling continued anger and anxiety over what they did affects me in the present. It still causes me to suffer as I woke up this morning feeling down and unmotivated after spending considerable time in that past last night. I know there is nothing I can feasibly do at this point in my life to seek vengeance for what was done to me--unless I start a campaign against the Mormon church or petition Congress to pass laws imposing duties on clergy--and I have come to realize that even through their heinous acts they still do not owe me anything. There was no debt created, after all. I have severed my relationship with the church and only touch upon it in conversation with family who still believe. It does not seriously impact on my life anymore. But why do the memories of what they did still come to the fore in a time of stress?
Possibly the reason lies in long-ingrained behaviors, patterns, that I have developed that allow me to be dirtied by the acts of others and remain impure--to reference Mcleod's definition above. Some of these patterns are social and cultural and others seem innate to human existence. The key to moving beyond this past-induced suffering, then, would be to change my relationship to those patterns in my life and to develop a different approach.
To understand how to move forward in this process I turned to Buddhism. Not because I'm Buddhist--though I think there are many worthwhile concepts contained therein--but because it offers the most easily accessible alternatives to the Christian concept of forgiveness. After some searching, I found six steps for changing the patterns of hurt and anger that arise when another person does us harm. I will quote them here. (The site was unclear on the attribution of these steps so I'll simply give the link here for those who want to investigate further.)
1. Recognize no one harms another unless they are in pain themselves. Ever noticed how, when you’re in a good mood, it’s hard for you to harm or hurt anything? You may even take the time to get an insect out of the sink. But if you’re stressed or in a bad mood, then how easy it is to wash it down the drain. 2. No one can hurt you unless you let them. Hard to believe, as no one actually wants to be hurt but it’s true. When someone hurts us, we are inadvertently letting them have an emotional hold over us. Instead, as spiritual teacher Byron Katie often says: If someone yells at you, let them yell, it makes them happy! 3. Respect yourself enough that you want to feel good. Deb did this with her father, an abusive and angry man. She made the decision that she wouldn’t respond to him with negativity, so she turned it around within herself and continued to wish him well. He died recently and Deb was able to feel total closure. 4. Consider how you may have contributed to the situation. It’s all too easy to point fingers and blame the perpetrator but no difficulty is entirely one-sided. So contemplate your piece in the dialogue or what you may have done to add fuel to the fire. Even when he feels he is 100 percent right, Ed always looks at a difficulty to see what was his part in it. 5. Extend kindness. That doesn’t mean you’re like a doormat that lets others trample all over you while you just lie there and take it. But it does mean letting go of negativity sooner than you might have done before, so that you can replace it with compassion. Like an oyster that may not like that irritating grain of sand in its shell but manages to transform the irritation into a beautiful and precious pearl. 6. Meditate. Meditation takes the heat out of things and helps you cool off, so you don’t over react. A daily practice we use is where we focus on a person we may be having difficulty with or is having a difficulty with us. We hold them in our hearts and say: May you be well! May you be happy! May all things go well for you!
These steps aren't perfect, but they're an alternative to simply "forgiving" a fictitious debt. They involve changing the way the self interacts with the event rather than seeking to change the event or to exact some kind of payment on the part of the other. It is a way to end my suffering without relying on a religious structure and concept that I do not believe in.
I can change myself and how I react to the patterns of my life. That does not mean I'm going to turn the cheek to any and all comers. I may yet endeavor to make political change and see legal duties imposed on clergy in the United States--it is a possibility--but the harm was done a long time ago and for me to continue to dwell on it as a negative emotional state only contributes to my continued suffering. Therefore, rather than forgive the Mormons, I will seek to purify myself by changing how I react to the patterns of anger and hatred for men who assumed they were saving my soul while causing me incredible amounts of psychological harm.
Unfortunately, I cannot give you a happy ending at this moment. I have just discovered this process and these ideas and as such have yet to process through them and to seek to fully resolve my feelings regarding what happened. I can only say that I now have a pattern on which I can base my reactions moving forward and a path towards removing the impurities of the past from my present life.