Monday, March 14, 2011

Of Lies, Meltdown and a Full Life

"Lie" is a strong word. To me, it involves an intentional act. The intent may be malicious. It may stem from a desire to protect ourselves or others or to avoid difficult emotions. There are lies we tell others. There are lies we tell ourselves. And there are lies that we like others to tell us.

I've been pondering that last category lately. If I'm being honest, my doubts about the "truthfulness" of the Church began when I was a teenager. Not just the usual teenage doubt we all experience, but deep doubt because so many things didn't add up in my mind and in my heart. The sum of the parts weren't equal to the whole person I was but didn't want to see.

Despite that doubt, for a long time I intentionally immersed myself in the church and largely dismissed or rationalized away viewpoints critical of the church and its leadership. I wanted to be assured the church was what it claims to be, even if that meant being told half-truths and outright lies. I was a devoted Mormon boy. I hitched my wagon to that well-known Mormon notion of "follow the prophet and you'll be blessed and be happy." Because of the level of dysfunction in my family, I turned to the church as a surrogate family, with all the psychological peril that entails.

I know without any doubt, and have known for a long time, that I'm gay. Yet for a long time I sought out assurance that I wasn't. I tried to resolve my turbulent inner conflict while keeping up the outward appearance of calm certitude. For many years, I allowed myself to believe the lies I could be "cured" and that I would find only misery in the big, bad "gay agenda." I internalized the notions being spewed at me: that I was confused, that I was a threat to the morality of society, that I was undermining the perpetuation of humanity, that I would forfeit my salvation if I ever pursued what my heart told me was honest and good, but which I was led to believe were the work of Satan himself.

To say all this messed with my mind is an understatement that defies the strength of any adjective. I realized that for me, the "Iron Rod" was actually a plutonium fuel rod and that the church understood me about as well as Homer Simpson understands his daughter Lisa. The nuclear reaction that was once occurring in my soul due to the collision of Mormon dogma with my fundamental nature as a gay person could be contained and cooled only temporarily. A catastrophic meltdown was inevitable. 

I don't have any profound wisdom to offer here. I'm not claiming to have a complete understanding of what it means to be gay, and I'm not saying that everything the church does is evil or based on a lie. If Mormonism works for some people, I am genuinely happy for them. If they are able to navigate a path and find joy in a belief system I no longer can, I applaud them. It is not for me to dictate to another how he or she works through the deeply personal and complex matters of spirituality and identity. I merely ask that I be allowed the same privilege to pursue my life, my liberty and my happiness in a peaceable way that works for me.

However, I do have a question: Why do so many of us like to be lied to? In many aspects of our lives, we seek out and hold onto the truth. We do so even when it is painful because we know how important it is to see things as they really are, not as we imagine them, and certainly not as well-meaning but misguided people try to tell us they are. But it seems that for some of us, in some areas of our lives, we want assurances even if they are built upon lies. Why do good and smart people want to be lied to? And even if the teller of untruth doesn't have the intent to lie, we sometimes provide a substitute for that intent by intentionally lying to ourselves about what particular information means to us.

Here in my post-Mormon, post-meltdown state, I'm finding that while I may appear to be dangerously radioactive to the average devout Mormon, I don't appear that way to everyone. I certainly don't feel that way. There are many ways to sustain and renew my soul that don't involve false hopes, magical thinking and lying to myself. Discovering them is like basking in the sun, hearing the flow of water in a river or the waves on the ocean, feeling a cooling breeze, feeling the vigor that comes from a good walk or run, and seeing clearly after a haze clears at long last. In this new phase, I'm trying to focus less on the half-life of what came before and more on the full life of the present and future. 

The unstable fissile material that once fueled my spirituality and warped my identity has now mostly melted away. I'm cleaning up what I can, trying to be patient as the fallout naturally decays over time, and continuing the daily process of telling myself the truth.


  1. I enjoyed your metaphorical take on a complex set of intangibles.

    I've a sneaking suspicion that the acting of lying occurs when accepting truth is not as rewarding to us as creating and maintaining a lie. In old-fashioned cognitive dissonance, which occurs when our beliefs and our actions are not aligned, we change our beliefs most commonly because they are oftentimes more mutable than actions. The same could be said of lies and their relation to the truth.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Dan.