Sunday, October 26, 2014

My thoughts on the new Polygamy Essays

Some time ago when a rumor in the ward about my family amplified itself against people's fear into absurd proportions, things were getting pretty bad for us.  The leadership had started treating us as outcasts and saying that they didn't believe we were telling the truth about ourselves and treating us as sinners just based on what we looked like.  I wasn't going to lay down flat for the rumor mill to destroy our standing in our community.  So I went and had a conversation with some of my neighbors about what had really happened- trying to make sure that the people who knew us best knew what was being done to us, why, and what we felt about it.  Unfortunately, one of the neighbors, less driven by sympathy, demanded that I defend myself to him.  When I complained that I felt like we were being treated as heretics, he actually directly asked me if I was a heretic.  Not exactly the "bearing one another's burden" reaction for which I was hoping.  In any case, for some reason he decided to bring up the anecdote about Joseph Smith demanding that another church leader transfer his wife to Joseph to be Joseph's wife as a test of faith.  Annoyed by the example, I agreed and added that Joseph Smith sometimes didn't just do it as a test of faith but actually took the woman as his wife- spiritually compelling the husband to share his wife's affection with Joseph as an act of obedience.  Lets just say I shocked the poor brother who didn't know as much LDS church history as I did.  Neither of us being in a charitable mood at that point, he didn't react thoughtfully and started to demand that I explain how that could possibly be true and Joseph Smith be the righteous true prophet that the LDS church claims.  In other words, how could I be a good person and believe what I had just said?  Perhaps there was a little bit of a plea behind it that if I was going to shake him up like that he wanted me to provide an explanation or a simple answer to make it all better.  I didn't have any easy answers to give him.  I just told him essentially that I thought people were complicated mixtures of good and bad and that I didn't think there was a simple answer or way out.  That probably sealed it in the man's mind that I was an apostate.  I knew things that shook the conventional form of the LDS narrative to its roots and I didn't believe there was a simple answer.  Humanity isn't simple.  Life isn't in black and white.  People aren't perfect no matter what titles they hold or what amazing things they accomplish.

The other day, the Salt Lake Tribune was carrying a front page article in the newspaper talking about how the LDS church acknowledged in print that Joseph Smith married teenage brides, married already married women, that his wife didn't know all about what he was up to, and that definitely some of the relationships were sexual in nature.  It made me want to track down this man and force him to acknowledge the past, and admit that I had my basic facts right, and tell him that it isn't my job to make it better for him.  The fact that the past isn't convenient to modern assumptions isn't my problem to fix for anyone.

We can all take the facts referred to in these essays and use them however integrity of our minds and hearts leads us.  The dentist turned historian, Brian Hales, whose analysis is largely depended upon for the interpretation in the recently published essays is I'm certain is writing from his heart.  I've even heard him speak at a public event before and I honestly did not find his interpretation of evidence to be compelling.  However, I left having felt his humanity shining through.  I am certain that he is a good man trying to do the best that he can to make his spiritual worldview make sense for people who were struggling while himself participating in that struggle.

Any history that politely lines itself up to confirm what you already think you know isn't history, its a moralistic allegory where the names and the places are all the same but where the what the people actually did is edited and simplified to provide inspirational stories.  I don't particularly like shocking people out of that narrative.  However, it can be difficult to avoid.  It feels like I'm not even in the same world anymore, so how can I possibly explain why my path is different without explaining my world?  Its as if I'm in a parallel dimension that can see and interact with the one that I grew up in, but now there are a multitude of additional obstacles that arise because of things that I care about now that I didn't used to care about, and simple paths through things that I no longer care about.

There is no answer, I think, but humility and love.  Any path that leads to sharing in God's love and goodness to the best that you know how is the right one.  It takes humility to not try to shake people away from growing in love because you don't like the view from where they are doing it.  Loving people and helping people grow in love- or in a sense to make love- is something that can only be done with consent.  Though we need a humble view of the past for a healthy future, forced worldview shifts (including ones sometimes made tragically necessary by unhealthy views of the past that push people away from being able to love) can be an abhorrent violation.  I wouldn't wish on anyone the pain that comes from a violent readjustment of his or her worldview.

While learning about polygamy did not trigger the changes in worldviews, it is one more place where I feel liberated to not have to make excuses for the past anymore to myself or to anyone.  The past simply is.

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