In the throes of trying to navigate my new-found disbelief in all things religious, I was often accused by my ex-wife of disrespect. As hard as I tried to remain on the down-low, there was no amount of passive compliance that sufficed. It baffled me because what “Respect” meant to her and what it meant to me were two entirely different things.
I fully admit that at that point I no longer had respect for the beliefs of Mormonism. What I did respect, however, was her right to hold to those beliefs. I never coerced her or forced her to read anything or discuss anything that she did not want to know. Conversely, she clearly had no respect for my lack of belief in the faith of our fathers. Having no faith, to her, was an unacceptable position and she had no respect for my right to NOT believe. I not only had to outwardly comply with her opinions and beliefs, I also had to squelch and mask any opinions or beliefs of my own.
As such, I found her to be the more disrespectful of the two of us. And I’ve since discovered that it’s always like that. Respect is NOT a two-way street. When it involves religion it is almost always one-way and the expectations on non-believers is heavy-handed and one-sided.
No religion proselytizes more than the Mormons. The core message of Mormonism is that it is the “restored, one true church on the earth.” How does that not diss every other religious belief out there? At any given time there are 50,000+ missionaries knocking on doors, approaching people on the street with that message, “We have a smidgeon more than you do.”
Yet, I have a sister who has sent 2 children on full-time proselytizing Mormon missions who got angry with me for answering her returned missionary son’s questions regarding my disbelief.
He approached me. I did not approach him.
I answered his questions and explained. Somehow he let his Mom know of the discussion and she became furious that I was trying to “spread my anti-Mormon filth.” So, spreading your belief and even aggressively approaching others if you are a Mormon is honorable; if you are a non-believer answering questions you are an anti-Christ hater.
Personally I felt much more disrespectful and imposing towards others as a full-time Mormon missionary than I ever have since.
My ex father-in-law is not Mormon like the rest of his family is. I actually don’t know what he believes. Like the faithful Mormon that I was, I never bothered to talk with him or question him about it. What mattered was that I was right and that he respected me. During my 10+ year stint as part of that family, I was party to many conversations in his presence that made me extremely uncomfortable because I knew he was within earshot. My father-in-law could have been invisible the entire time. As most LDS families, the conversations almost always came back to the church. The family would talk about who would make it to the Celestial Kingdom, the benefits of temple work, missionary work and those who lack faith such as inactives and the consequences for disobeying the Word of Wisdom (he drank). My mother-in-law and children more than once talked about being sealed to another man, a worthy priesthood holder, after death – this particular gem wasn’t in the father-in-law’s presence, but I still found it incredibly disrespectful.
One particular time my own brother caused a furious uproar in that family which perfectly illustrates this one-way respect. Both families were all visiting our house one weekend when my father-in-law offered to give my brother a ride to his next location so that I could stay with all our guests. During that car ride, my father-in-law began to question my brother about church. My brother was a truck driver at the time and so my father-in-law was curious as to how he coordinated that profession with the heavy-handed Mormon activity he saw in his own family. My brother explained that he didn’t believe and didn’t follow the church any longer and so it wasn’t a problem at all. This peaked my father-in-law’s interest and he began to ask questions which my brother felt safe in answering.
Two non-believers, alone in a car by themselves sharing their own doubts and reasons for disbelief.
When my ex-wife, who had spent 18 months as a proselytizing missionary herself, heard about this private conversation weeks later she and the rest of her family became unglued and furious – at me apparently. She called me at work screaming into the phone that my brother had been spreading his anti-Mormon lies to her father and that I had better do something about it. Keep in mind that until this frantic phone call, I didn’t even know that the conversation had taken place. I wasn’t involved at all. Apparently, my job, my brother’s job and my father-in-law’s job was to never talk about religion or Mormonism… EVER. To do so was disrespectful.
Private vs Public
Using that standard, it seems that Mormons would likewise never talk about other religions or atheists in their own private time… even out of earshot of non-believers. But they do.
Mormon scripture is full of disbelieving caricatures such as Korihor, Sherem, & Nehor. Their sin is that they not only disbelieved but they also told people about it. That is one of the worse things you can do in Mormonism.
On the other hand, Samuel the Lamanite stands up on a wall in a neighboring city, calls everyone wicked sinners and he’s a hero. Mormon in-your-face sharing is honorable and righteous, but if you disbelieve and share, even in private you are excommunicated and hated.
I fail to see how that sort of practice and behavior in Mormonism is more respectful. The entire doctrine of the Apostasy and Restoration themselves necessarily include the message that all other religions are imperfect and incomplete and Mormonism is “full” and divine. Even if these doctrines are taught out of earshot of believers in other religions (which they are not). I still find it hypocritical to maintain these beliefs and expect everyone else to remain hush.
Nothing is more out of earshot than the Mormon temple for example. Only faithful believers can enter. Until 1990 the Mormon temple endowment (a reenactment of the creation & Adam/Eve myths on film; the ceremony I was introduced to) included the character of a protestant priest who was a bumbling fool and tool of Satan. It was incredibly disrespectful and yet I don’t know one Mormon who would admit it. It was essentially OK to portray other Christian religions and priests as fools in private. At church on Sundays we would pat ourselves on the back for not speaking ill of other religions and then we’d go to the temple and sit numbly by as we dissed the whole of Christianity in the temple.
When they significantly changed the temple endowment ceremony (something no one admits) in 1990 this goofy priest character was wisely removed. I would still say that the practice of public politeness and private disdain for other believers remained.
When I visit someone’s home, I expect that any traditions and practices that they subscribe to will be followed. I certainly respect that. But in my home, you will respect my behaviors and practices. My good friend shared with me how a typical Mormon’s arrogant demand for respect is lived in every day life with our believing families. Her sister’s believing family were visiting from out of town and as they prepared to eat a meal together in my friend’s home, the sister asked if they were going to pray over the food. My friend said, no that wasn’t their practice in their home, so her sister asked if they could pray. I find THAT disrespectful and ballsy. Granted, at least she asked, but imagine if I went into a believers home and asked if we could refrain from praying over the food because that’s how I did it!
Later on, one of the sister’s children told my friend’s 8 year old son that he’d be going to hell because he wasn’t baptized. The Mormon sister laughed it off and mildly corrected the offending child. Imagine if my friend’s son had been in the other home and had called her sister’s child a moron for believing in God or Joseph Smith. Can you imagine the uproar?
This sort of one-way expectation of respect is played out every day among believing adults as well as children.
(spoiler alert) In the Book of Mormon on Broadway, the song I Believe illustrates this unabashed entitlement feeling that is so ingrained into believers. It’s not enough to have his beliefs… Elder Price has to impose on the native Africans to tell them about it. This happens every day as Mormon missionaries knock on doors, approach people on buses, trains and airplanes.
After the song, the next time in the play that we see Elder Price, he is in a medical clinic, on all fours with the town doctor inspecting an x-ray showing the Book of Mormon that the warlord had obviously shoved up Elder Price’s ass!
Yes, that’s what it felt like to get that phone call from my then-wife ripping me a new one because of a private conversation that her father and my brother had had in private. It’s an anger that YOU came into MY territory and what you did and what you said was unwelcome. It was fun to see it portrayed in reverse…the overzealous Mormon taking it up the ass for imposing his offensive beliefs.
I only say that you can’t have it both ways. If you proselytize, you have to allow you and yours to be targets for the opposite opinion. If, on the other hand, you want everyone to happily exist within their own status quo, then there are 50,000 young men and women in the world who need to shut up, come home and get on with their lives.
Have some respect.