Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I can’t be a Mormon because I wear the wrong underwear

There was a time before I resigned when I contemplated being a cultural Mormon (a.k.a. New Order Mormon). During this time I quickly realized that since I did not fully believe all that is required to be a True Believing Mormon (TBM), and I did not wear the correct underwear, I couldn't fully fit in as a Mormon.

Sure I could show up, take sacrament, talk about Jesus and ethics and support the philanthropy and family values. But I didn’t wear the right underwear. I first went without the Mormon undergarment on my mission in Brazil because they led to me getting a heat rash, so upon medical advice I stopped wearing them until the rash went away. Going without them led me to feel free, as if I was mentally repressed wearing them before. This was my first glimpse into the mentally controlling and repressive nature of the garments.

After my LDS mission I started to study Mormonism more deeply and after a few years I was starting to realize it wasn't what it claimed to be. At this point I had one foot in and one foot out the door of Mormonism. For I was intellectually convinced it was man-made yet psychologically I was rooted in LDS subculture. I then began to ask myself, “Do the garments really protect me like a bulletproof vest? Are the garments a psychological device just like a rabbit's foot?” When I thought about it I wondered, “Are garments just superstitious mind control devices?”

At this point I decided to stop wearing the garments as a starting step in the process of stepping outside the “Mormon Matrix” into the “desert of the real.” I soon went to a department store and bought some normal underwear. As I was shopping it seemed weird to me at first, and at that moment I realized just how much control the Mormon Church had over my psyology as to control my underwear habits! I remember feeling so free to purchase some boxers, enjoying the freedom to pick out a pair of blue ones, black ones, and even some striped ones. I was a wild man! Then came the thought into the back of my mind, "What if an active LDS member sees me buying normal underpants?" In hindsight I realize now just how powerful the fixation on group loyalty is in Mormonism when you're in that "Mormon Bubble.".

One of the thoughts that occurred to me that gave me the courage to lose the garments was that if God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient then he controls the world and knows what will happen before it does; so garments are irrelevant for it would be God that protects us not the garments.

Still, the mental conditioning I received in the Mormon temple to always wear them in order to be protected from evil powers and being told that I must never stop wearing them, caused me much anxiety the first few nights going to bed without them on. However, as anyone knows who studies the psychology of anxiety and behavior, the more I went without Mormon garments the more comfortable I became through something called "habituation." Today, after years of not wearing them the thought of wearing them today would be the equivalent of someone telling me I had to put on a straitjacket, or else!

In short, I never believed in a magic rabbit’s foot, and I soon realized that I didn't believe in magic underwear either.

Mormons say the garment is a reminder. If I needed a symbolic reminder to be good, what the heck was my conscience for? I’d mine as well walk around with a tattoo of the golden rule on my chest to remember to be good.

Before I made my final mental break from Mormonism however I wanted desperately to be accepted and loved by the organization I grew up in. I gave a lot of my time and energy to it. I served two years on a mission. I had many friends and family in the LDS church. Yet I was always worried as a New Order Mormon (a cultural Mormon doubting some or all the doctrines) that when people found out what I really thought about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, that I wouldn't be accepted. Going without the garment would be viewed as a sign that I am not a True Believing Mormon. I remember thinking to myself, “They won’t accept me because I wear the wrong underwear.” I realize now how stupid and exaggerated that might sound but it is how I felt. In fact, there were quite a few Mormons who I tried to be friends with during this time; but when they discovered my liberation from the garments and LDS dogma I became a conversion project for them. Once they realized that their testifying to me over and over had no effect on me, and they didn't like hearing about the facts I was sharing (that they’d rather ignore); then we quickly drifted apart.

I also had many conversations with understanding LDS members who tried to tell me that I should not “throw out the baby with the bath water.” They told me how good the church is, and some even told me that a large percent of members aren't even active. Their point was that I should still go to the LDS church even though I didn't believe all of it. They would say things like “No one is going to ask you if you wear garments or believe the Book of Mormon is a literal history, so just don’t bring it up.” I wondered if they stopped to think about what they were saying, how unrealistic it seemed to me and how I would have to lead a life of secrecy. I tried what they said for awhile and just felt stifled. I remember running into Mormons I knew at the gym and being afraid to undress in the locker room in front of them lest they discover I wasn’t wearing the garments and then speculate as to why not. I was afraid they would see my colored underwear and think I wasn’t being loyal to the group.

I was single as well and so I knew a lot of Mormon girls looked to see if a young man was wearing the garment. I had witnessed many LDS girls search for garment lines under my clothes, to see if I was a “worthy” member and a return missionary. They learn to do this early on to see if you are able to fulfill her childhood fantasy of marrying her in the temple. A Jack Mormon friend of mine suggested I buy a pair of underwear that was like the LDS garment, that would go down to my knees. Then I wouldn’t worry about being shunned. I tried this and it seemed to work, but who was I fooling? Wasn’t this deceptive? They would find out eventually, so why lie about it?

I thought to myself, "Had my life come to this, fooling people with pseudo secret underwear?" I realized that even if I wanted to be one of the millions of inactive members (New Order Mormons and Jack Mormons) I could not pass the temple interview because I did not have any supernatural experience to confirm the absolute truth claims of the Mormon institution, despite many attempts to have one. I decided I would not lie about it, as I know some LDS members do just to get into the temple so they can get married there. Many Cultural Mormons just want to get it over with to please their parents and community. They do this because a civil marriage is frowned upon. I remember when I was younger a friend got married outside the temple and all these rumors were circulated that he had sex with his fiancé. Everyone assumed they were “unworthy.” When I had a chance to talk with him about the rumors I learned that he was so-called "worthy," but he simply decided to elope civilly first to make non-Mormon relatives happy. He then later married in the temple. He did not have premarital sex as everyone said, in fact he jokes about it saying, “Gosh, with all that gossip slandering my character, I mine as well have done the 'deed' as they said I was doing it anyway!”

Even if I wanted to try and have a life in the LDS church, in the temple interview they would ask me questions I could not answer to their satisfaction. They would eventually ask me, “Do you wear the authorized garments both day and night?” This question alone would bar me from entering the temple where I’m told God and the angels reside. It would not matter how kind and ethical I was, or how much I wanted to be loved and just fit in, I would be rejected. More to the point, Mormon girls are trained to want a garment wearing, priesthood holding, return missionary. Even Jack Mormon girls still want this fairy tale ending. It’s what their parents’ want, and all their friends talk about it, so even after they rebel a little they still want that temple marriage.

There are Catholics who aren’t true believing Catholics, and Protestants who are not true believers either. There are degrees of faith; some have stronger testimonies than others. They show up at church, they are good, they go home and they are accepted. If they fail to have any magnificent religious experience like others have they are still welcomed at church, and can wear what they want. Mormonism is different. Take me for example, I wanted to be part of Mormon culture. It was my cultural home. I liked Mormon socials. But the bottom line was this:

I didn’t wear garments

No garments = no temple admittance

No temple = no Mormon temple marriage

Therefore, dating a Mormon girl would be difficult.

I remember thinking during this time, "I can’t be Mormon because I wear the wrong underwear. How absurd is that? I’m socially shunned because of the kind of underwear I have on."

It does not matter if you are a moral person; in the LDS church if you can’t pass the questions asked in a Temple Recommend interview you are considered an unworthy member. It makes no difference if you live your life according to ethical principles and try to love your neighbor as yourself. It doesn’t matter if you want to be part of Mormon culture. If you want to marry a Mormon girl she will probably not want to marry you if you’re not a Mormon. Her church defines you as an "investigator" or "inactive member" to be converted to being a Temple Mormon or you are labeled an “apostate,” or someone “unworthy.” If you can’t take her to the temple, the place she has been trained to believe is her sacred destiny, then you are probably less of a man in her eyes.

The bottom line is that if you wear the wrong underwear in Mormon culture you are supposed to "sit down" and "shut up" or suffer the social consequences.

If a man chooses not to wear the Mormon underwear he is socially ostracized if he makes his thoughts known to everyone. He also cannot go to the temple, which he is told is the key to enter heaven according to LDS doctrine. Most LDS members do not know that the symbols on the garment are taken from the secret fraternity of Freemasonry that Joseph Smith joined before the endowment was completed. In the past garments came down to the ankles and the wrist and were also to be worn at all times. Some members were so superstitious that they would not remove them completely even when bathing. In my opinion the garments have served as a symbolic reminder to be good and such, like the Catholic Priest wears his priestly robes. It is all a lot of tradition, and in my opinion superstition. I hope my reader understands that I am not trying to be irreverent or sarcastic for this is the only way I know how to express my thoughts.

No matter how hard I try I just don't get the concept of garments? Oh, don’t accuse me of not reading a lot about their function for I have read plenty and I still just do not get it. People treat these things like a rabbit’s foot or a bulletproof vest. Is it just me or is that not superstitious? They say to me "the garments protect you." Is it the fabric or God that really protects you? What do you tell someone who inquires into your underwear habits? "Ah, Jim, I was just noticing you're not wearing garments, why aren’t you wearing the sacred undergarment?"

We all know that a lot of LDS members, if they happen to notice you have failed to wear them that day, they are supposed to know what kind of wretched sinner you are! Just like if you notice that someone does not take the bread and water at sacrament, since it is a public ritual, you have no choice but to wonder why they didn’t take it? You may say you are above this, but for me personally, I used to often look to see if those around me are taking it – it’s only human. Members won’t usually go, “Well, he must be hot so that’s why he’s not wearing them,” because you are supposed to wear them at all times no matter what, right?

As previously mentioned, on my mission in Brazil I had a heat rash from wearing garments and was told by doctors to avoid wearing them as much as possible. My companion tried to scold me for taking medical advice and said I was not being true to my temple covenants. This was the beginning of my realization of how controlling the Mormon system can be on the psyche of its members.

I think the most insulting tradition in the LDS church is the social statement that the person is labeled not worthy enough to wear garments or go to the temple. When non-members cannot attend the wedding in the temple it is said that they are not “worthy.” The idea is, “we are not secret or clannish for they can come into our temple if they become worthy: if they become an active true believing and paying Mormon, then they are worthy and can enter.” When I was LDS I heard that so much, “he or she wasn’t worthy to go to the temple.” It is never "he or she is worthy but doesn’t believe. They have questions that haven’t been answered. The person feels God gave them a different message to not wear garments etc." No, the fault is always on the dissenter, they are not worthy. The irony is that the active true believing LDS members tell the more progressive thinking members that they need a firmer “testimony,” and if they don’t have one then they are the problem not the LDS epistemology (truth finding methodology) nor the Mormon institution. They are often negatively labeled “unworthy,” for the LDS church teaches that only worthy members gain a “true testimony.” True Believing Mormons will tell inactive members to come back to church so they can essentially be deemed “worthy” again. The person is not accepted as a whole person in this regard, for they are viewed as a conversion project, someone broken who needs to be fixed. There is no love of the person as an individual with different thoughts and opinions. There is only, “come back, let us mold you into a worthy member, so you can go to the temple.” This is a “we love you if you do what we say” attitude.

Anyone who studies psychology will learn that this dichotomous setup can be the cause of much depression for some Mormons, as well as feelings of low self-esteem and isolation. It breeds class separation, segregation among the labeled worthy and unworthy. It is elitist name calling, rarely justified, and very damaging to the person under the religious systems condemnation; not to mention it contradicts all the teachings of Jesus: which were based on social integration and a release from the letter of the law toward the spirit of the law of love, compassion, and acceptance.

Note: There is always the risk of a post-Mormon writing about some aspect of LDS culture he or she found distasteful in that there will always be a Latter day Saint member who will assume that “one” issue is why they resigned or went inactive from Mormonism. So to be clear when I was a True Believing Mormon garments weren't an issue for me, and losing the garments was simply a bonus byproduct of becoming intellectually and spiritually convinced Mormonism is not what it claims to be. If you wish to know the full reasons as to why I resigned you can read my story here.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that you have come to the conclusion that "all" LDS members feel the way you expressed in this post. I have been a member all my life and have never judged someone for not wearing the garment or not partaking of the sacrament. I was taught and I believe, that is between God and him/her. Never for me to judge or assume his/her worthiness. And on another note, as a young woman of the church, I never searched out people's garment lines for my prospective husband. I'm sorry you felt that was what people were doing. I am also sorry to hear that you felt such despair and agony of wearing the garments. that is not what they are meant to do for those who wear them. the garment is meant to set as a reminder of those things we have promised in the temple, a daily reminder of keeping his spirit nearest to us. I wish you could have felt that comfort when you wore them in the past. I wish you all the best in the future, and that you will find peace. And hope that you know there are members who love you and don't care about whether you decide to wear the garment or not, go to the temple, take the sacrament or not or believe in Christ's church. I hope you find what you are searching for. Much love from California =)

William Kempton said...

Hey Anonymous,

You started by saying: “It is unfortunate that you have come to the conclusion that ‘all’ LDS members feel the way you expressed in this post. I have been a member all my life and have never judged someone for not wearing the garment …”

I commend you for your tolerance and non-judgmental attitude, and if you recall in my post I wrote: “I had many conversations with understanding LDS members ... [who] would say things like ‘no one is going to ask you if you wear garments, so just don’t bring it up.” Thus I didn’t mean to convey that "all" Mormons are any one way. I am aware that there are Mormons like you who I think are great.

You also wrote, “I never searched out people's garment lines for my prospective husband. I'm sorry you felt that was what people were doing.”

You make it sound like I was being paranoid, maybe I was, but for good reason and I think most former Mormons will understand what I am talking about even if you don't. The fact is that I did have a few LDS girls notice I wasn’t wearing the garments, and they did comment on it, and many Mormons do look to see if someone is wearing garments. In fact, as I write this I just remembered when I was in the MTC and it was time for us to present the lessons in the MTC to people who we thought might be real investigators. I remember one of the missionaries in my district saying that while giving the lessons he looked to see if he could see garment lines on the people so he’d know if they were real investigators or not. So my experiences are real and they are my experiences even though yours might be different. I am glad to hear you weren’t interested in men’s underwear habits but you can’t say other single LDS members are not. Especially since it is one of the signs the LDS church uses to mark one as a Mormon who went through the temple and thus is probably a true believing Mormon.

You also wrote, “I am also sorry to hear that you felt such despair and agony of wearing the garments.” That is a bit dramatic, and perhaps is not exactly how I described wearing the garments, read my post again to get a clearer picture.

You also say the garments are “meant to set as a reminder of those things we have promised in the temple,” which I did mention in my post.

You fail to mention that in the temple you are told that the garments are to be "a shield and a protection to you from the power of the destroyer." Once that is put in your mind after repeated visits to the temple then I think you can imagine the fear involved in going without the garment.

You then wrote, “I wish you could have felt that comfort when you wore them [the garments] in the past.” This comfort you speak of is part of what my post is about, for that comfort you speak of is, I think, a direct result of the superstitious fear of what will happen if one is not wearing them; just as someone who feels a lucky rabbit’s foot helps them play a sport better will feel anxiety before the game if they lose the rabbit’s foot. The point of the post, was to express that I experienced a mental freedom and relief when I realized the garments were not a bullet proof vest and if God was the ultimate controller of nature then the garments were just cloth, and it was God who would protect me not "magic underwear."

I am also aware, as you wrote, that “there are [LDS] members who love [me] and don't care about whether [I] decide to wear the garment or not, [or go back] to the temple …” and these types of Mormons are awesome, and may their number increase. However, the sad fact is that based on my personal experience they are the minority of active Mormons; since Mormons are trained to divide the world into the fully active Temple worthy garment wearing Mormon versus all those who are "off track," are unworthy, or need help getting a testimony, etc.

Much love back at ya from California =)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your very insightful experience! I truly enjoyed reading it and it has helped me realize one reason why, perhaps, after leaving the church five years ago, my husband still wears his garments. We got married in the temple and that whole experience made us start to question... now we are both so happy to be free from LDS culture and damaging beliefs!

William Kempton said...

You're welcome. People outside the LDS church often don't seem to understand the influence the garments have as subliminal messages that affect the subconscious mind; as many former Mormons can attest.

Are Former Mormons Mirroring the Black & White mentality of the Mormonism they grew up in?

I recently came across an article where the author writes: "I wish my fellow ex-Mormons (or former Mormons, or disaffected, or wha...