Zelophehad’s Daughters

Why I don’t really love the Church (and why I think God’s okay with it)

Posted by Lady Amalthea

Before commenting, I’d like to request that people please review the policies – please refrain from giving me advice (the questions I ask here are meant to stimulate discussion, they are not me actually asking for people to give to me personally solutions), questioning my testimony, or challenging my faith.  Any such attempts to do so will be moderated.

I was a junior in college when I first saw the movie The Incredibles.  It was a Saturday afternoon, I’d had a really bad day when plans for a project feel through in the last minute, and I was in a foul mood.  Wanting only to spend money on indulgence, I took a bus to the mall to see a movie.  I picked The Incredibles – it was new, it was popular, and it got great reviews.  What could I lose?

I did not like the movie.  What was worse, I was in a packed theatre where every single person around me loved it.  They were laughing and cheering and enjoying the experience with an exuberance to which I could not relate.  It was the most painful movie watching experience I can remember.  When I left the theatre that day, I no longer disliked The Incredibles – I hated it.

Gallup recently released a poll (link) which revealed that the most optimistic place in America is the Provo-Orem area, where I grew up.  I’ve found it’s released a lot of mixed feelings for me in response.  I’m only a year and a half away from living there, and I feel my retrospective on that experience expanding.  For instance, I’m only just beginning to realize how much I despised my stint at BYU – but since it wasn’t all that different from my time growing up in Utah Valley, it didn’t strike me as particularly unusual at the time.  I think that growing up in Utah Valley knowing that so many people around me loved living there, made me hate it all the more.

I think it’s human nature to, when in the minority in any situation, to want to conform to the majority, because being that one and only person singled out with a differing opinion can be a difficult situation.  I know for myself, I’ve often told others that I do actually agree with the majority, and then tried to convince myself of that fact.  Even when I knew deep down it wasn’t true.

The difficulty of it also further comes because it’s easy to take a contrary perspective as an invalidation. Which certainly wasn’t my intent in much of these experiences.  I don’t think it’s invalid for other people to love Utah Valley; just as I don’t think it was invalid for all those other people in the theatre to love The Incredibles.  But my differing still opinion needs to be acknowledged as legitimately equal and of worth.

Some of this occurs to me because I realized recently that for the first time that I can ever remember, I’m actually happy with my life.  I attend a small, tight-knit branch of people I really like (including a couple like-minded liberals), I’m attending a graduate program with people I enjoy, and I actually feel like I’m doing well in school.  And I’m no longer surrounded by hoards of people who define themselves first and foremost as Mormon, people who find validation in the fact that everyone around them does the same.  I find interacting with people of a variety of faiths refreshing, with different (and oftentimes more relateable) perspectives.  I talked to my work supervisor once about something similar to this subject, and I think she put it best: everyone needs to live in a culture that validates them.  I was never really happy living in Utah Valley, not once in 26 years.

A few weeks ago, I attended a temple trip with my branch.  We’re enough in the middle of nowhere that it takes a 3 1/2 hour drive to get there, so it’s an all-day event.  I don’t attend Endowment sessions (yes, I’ve been Endowed, and my agitation with that is an entirely different set of issues, one which I’m not interested in discussing here) and have always done Baptisms for the Dead.  But while I was sitting by the font waiting to be called for confirmations, it occurred to me that I really don’t like doing Baptisms, and I think I figured out the reasons why.  First of all, I am not a morning person (and I subscribe to the belief that such a thing is biological) meaning that getting up at 6 am in the morning, and then driving for 3 to 4 hours (and then 3 to 4 hours to get home) always leaves me incredibly tired.  And almost every time I’ve gone, I’ve ended up having a  fight with someone, and usually over stupid things.  I hate fighting with people – especially when I’m tired.  But even more than that, I compulsively time manage.  And sitting in a room with a dozen other people not knowing when I’m going to be called up for confirmations is near about torturous for me (that is only a slight exaggeration).  I hate not knowing, and having no control over when I’m going to know.  I’m the kind of person that wishes that we had enough of a system that it was more all laid out in advance, because I would do much better if I knew exactly how much time I was to be sitting there and waiting.  I hated that when I showed up at 6 am to the Provo Temple and waited two hours in line while other people’s friends showed up and cut in line, and I still hate it now.  So because of that, I don’t really feel spiritual doing it.  And I feel like my attempting to change this would be tantamount to a dramatic alteration of my personality.

To attend this particular trip, I had to make a number of modifications to my life in the days preceding.  My Saturdays are normally taken up grocery shopping, doing laundry, and the three to four hours it takes me to do my homework.  And getting all of that done in the days prior, on top of all my regular priorities, as well as the fact that I fed the Sister Missionaries the night before the trip (something I did very happily, as I like the Sisters in my branch), on top of giving up the one day of the week I have to myself and when I can sleep in, made my week incredibly stressful.  I’m not saying all this to say, oh look what a great person I am for making all these sacrifices (or go the opposite, to bemoan all that I had to give up).  My point is to ask: isn’t enough that I sacrifice and go willingly – do I really have to love the experience?

I have spent my entire life in the church, and I feel pretty confident it’s where God wants me to be.  But I am never going to love being in this church.  Even if I put aside all my doctrinal issues, my feminism, my liberalism, how much I hate the Mormon culture, and all the clashes I’ve had with other members, my experiences at BYU in particular have made very clear to me one thing: with the church as is, I will never gain acceptance; because the institution and its people don’t want me for who I am – they just want me for who they think I should be.

So can’t I say that’s enough?  Do I really have to love it?  If I show up every week with a good attitude and participate in my callings and keep myself temple-worthy, is loving it really necessary?  If we start requiring love from its people, we move into dangerous territory.  I’ve long held the belief that no utopia is applicable to everyone, because people are far too varied.  And I resent the idea that a place with Mormon homogeny should be the ideal for everyone, especially everyone who’s Mormon.  I hated living in Utah, and I resent any implication that I should feel otherwise simply because it varies from the opinion of the majority.  And where other Mormons see church as a safe haven from the world, I oftentimes feel it’s the opposite.

It goes back to my experience when I first saw The Incredibles.  While my dislike of the movie was enhanced by it being contrary to everyone around me, it didn’t change the fundamental fact that I still disliked the movie, and that my opinion of it was every bit as valid as everyone who enjoyed it.  It’s hard to sit in church and hear people gush about how much they love the Mormon church, or talk about loving the temple.  I don’t in any way mean to imply that their feelings are invalid.   But at the same time, my feelings still deserve equal legitimacy and worth.

26 Responses to “Why I don’t really love the Church (and why I think God’s okay with it)”

  1. 1.

    Amen.

    Didn’t grow up in the Utah Valley or go to BYU (because I knew I would hate it), but this fits my feelings otherwise. I do know other members who are happier now that they are out of Utah, so you are definitely not alone in that.

    I keep going to church, but I know I will never fit in there. I do have a testimony of the basic things, so I keep going despite my many issues.

  2. 2.

    I hear ya. We moved from Utah/ Idaho when I was 11 to the eastern US. My father says it “saved his testimony”.

    I wish you would have explained the reasons you stay a little more. One thing I feel sure about: this life is about enjoying it – not just enduring it. If you don’t love the Church, why continue? I ask this as someone who also is finding that the cons of the church out weigh the pros and that Maybe that’s not changing anytime soon. Is God really ok with me slogging along, just making the best of it? Im starting to think not.

  3. 3.

    It is enough. You don’t have to love it. In fact, you will get an extra cookie in heaven for doing your duty when you didn’t feel like it.

  4. 4.

    The whole idea of enjoying life seems to be a uniquely modern thing. Most of life is about eating your brassicas and being OK with it–not enduring it or putting up with it, but just getting on with it. It strikes me that thinking life is meant to be enjoyed is almost as much a dead end as trying to “find yourself.” It never works, because there is nothing to find and the more time you spending looking the less you actually do in life and your Vitamin D levels just get worse.

    And yes, Utah Valley is both full of wonderful caring people surrounded by gorgeous mountains and also a complete hell hole.

  5. 5.

    Amen, sister. Holy cow. I’ve been there. My husband and I are counting down the days ’til we graduate from BYU and can get out of Utah (or at least out of Utah Valley). We are kicking ourselves that we didn’t transfer when we got married. Stupid. Anyhow, everything you said in your post resonated with me, but this point especially stood out:

    “with the church as is, I will never gain acceptance; because the institution and its people don’t want me for who I am – they just want me for who they think I should be.”

    I feel this way exactly. I’m trying to re-program myself and allow myself to live my by own conscience. What’s more difficult to deal with then the understanding that I will never be accepted as I am in the Church (in its current state), is the understanding that I might never be accepted as I am in my own family (with the exception of my husband–so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. It’s just frustrating when I want to have a close relationship with my other family members).

  6. 6.

    This is an excellent post, and your honesty and candidness are refreshing. I personally feel very much the same way. Particularly today, I’m crabby about the church. And I ask myself why. Why stay with it? I haven’t had some manifestation, or revelation, that the church is true (whatever that means). I don’t have a “testimony”, and not for lack of trying. So again, why. Why stay with it?

    I’d love to hear your responses, if I may be so bold as to ask. I need a little encouragement, because I get very little out of church. The only compelling thing, is that it essentially my ethnicity. My primary faith language. Other than my heritage, and lack of viable alternatives, I’d like a reason to stay.

  7. 7.

    First off let me say that I am generally very skeptical of surveys that measure happiness. So much just doesn’t add up. I remember sitting in a class almost 40 years ago with a well known pollster discussing polling and questions. He remarked how interesting it was that when asked about the use of birth control pills how often a woman would answer that she didn’t use them but knew that her neighbor did.(Hard to imagine we are back in that debate again.) Anyway, my point is there is a lot of pressure in the church to be happy. So people will answer that they are happy. I know a lot of people who say they love the church but there actions seem to speak otherwise. They attend but they contribute in very minimal ways. They tell me how much they enjoy General Conference. Not because of conference but because they don’t need to attend church.

    Saying “I love the church” can be just another trite platitude. I haven’t been to church in probably two years. Am I happier for it? There are some things I miss about it. But I am certainly more content than I was when I was more actively involved in the church.

  8. 8.

    There is so much to say about the topic and responses, but I don’t have the place to say it right now. I’m just going to say:

    I love Christ. Idolizing his “bride” is something God has counseled us against. I can’t believe in a loving God who doesn’t want us to be who we are, however that may appear, and therefore I don’t think God is happy with an institution when it acts in direct opposition with that love. I believe God wants us to be happy, now. I don’t believe that being/feeling happy and enduring yuck are mutually exclusive. I stay despite the yuck because I know I am happier when I follow my experience of God (which I gained through the Church, and retain at least through truth/doctrine if not culture).

  9. 9.

    Based upon your first paragraph I get the impression you on wish to practice that female trait of just talking about your feelings and don’t seek to have any male-oriented solutions presented. Perhaps the moderation of comments needs to account for the differences in the male / female inclinations of how to tackle a problem.

    For example, if the commenter is a male you can allow for a tidy summary of the issues, identification of the problem, and proposed solutions to solve it. If the commenter is a female, you can allow for a more supportive response which allows for expression of your feelings, talking about how appropriate the feelings are and, in conclusion, a bonding of spirits that strengthens the relationship between you and the commenter.

  10. 10.

    The question is, why are people motivated to do things (and why do they like/love things?)? That answer has changed drastically in the past five hundred – one hundred years.

    Of course motivation is not always about return on investment, but it helps. Some things you do because they are the right thing to do, they feel right, etc. Volunteering in the community, for example. But I wouldn’t say that I “love” the organizations that I volunteer for or that I support financially.

    Many people decry the idea of cost/benefit analysis from volunteerism, life choices, etc, but I support this type of thinking. At some point, if you are not getting anything out of a job or activity or obligation, it’s time to re-evaluate. And this answer will probably be different for everyone. Some people may stay in a job that they hate for various reasons (that I can’t comprehend). Each person is responsible for their choices.

    But in general, if an organization doesn’t respect me personally, doesn’t respect or appreciate my time or sacrifices, I do begin to seriously think about whether or not my involvement is worthwhile. Just because my great grandparents made certain choices doesn’t mean I have to. Some people would call that selfish, and that’s fine. For me, it means prioritizing my life, interests and family.

  11. 11.

    I’m wondering suppose you really hate Utah valley, but God wants you to live there.
    Do you stay and be miserable,or move away so you might have joy?

  12. 12.

    .

    I didn’t mind living in Utah as an adult, but I had to leave to raise my kids for many of the reasons you state.

    You might give The Incredibles another chance, though. . . . .

  13. 13.

    SNeilsen,

    She can become a Catholic and then the suffering and misery will provide her strength and salvation (I was raised a Catholic so I know the philosophy well).

    Just remember, the scripture states that “Men are that they might have joy.” It says nothing about women and children.

  14. 14.

    The whole idea of enjoying life seems to be a uniquely modern thing. Most of life is about eating your brassicas and being OK with it–not enduring it or putting up with it, but just getting on with it. It strikes me that thinking life is meant to be enjoyed is almost as much a dead end as trying to “find yourself.” It never works, because there is nothing to find and the more time you spending looking the less you actually do in life and your Vitamin D levels just get worse.

    But O, participating in the Church is a choice. If it doesn’t make one happy – Why do it? That’s not to say that you have to love EVERYTHING – or always LOVE it, or never struggle with anything, but if the jury is out and you’ve concluded that being the Church is not at all enjoyable – what next??

  15. 15.

    If you become a Catholic you will also only have to spend 45 minutes in Mass each Sunday and nobody pries into your personal life. No callings either!

    My time at BYU I used to go to the Catholic Mass at St. Francis’s parish every so often.

  16. 16.

    You don’t have to love the church — just the members.

  17. 17.

    I, too, am a life-long member, temple recommend holder and a true believer, but the church can and does drive me crazy at times. I found the years when I lived in Utah to be especially challenging. I am a BYU graduate, and while I am proud of that fact, I can still recall some of the blatant idiocies of that period. Ok, incredibly strict dress and grooming codes (women could not wear pants while bowling!); students spying on faculty and reporting to the then-president; and you could go on and on. But I learned a lot while I was there, nevertheless. Later, in Salt Lake Valley, I had a bishop who deviated from the approved questions in a temple recommend interview in a way that was wholly inappropriate. Ultimately, that was corrected. Do I resent being asked to make a list of people to have the missionary discussions? Yes, I do, and I’m a ward missionary. That’s not the way I see sharing the Gospel. Speaking as an “mature” man, with a wife and five daughters, I say don’t worry. Keep your testimony of the Gospel and worry about the church later. My wife’s not a morning person, either. It is biological, I’m sure. And it’s okay. I’m not judging, and I’m not offering advice, but be aware that depression affects your spiritual view of life. I know from experience. If that’s an issue, deal with it like the illness it is (not a sin, for Pete’s sake.)

  18. 18.

    [...] reasonable to steal from libraries, risks and consequences of leaving and of staying when you don’t really like it (prepare to have your testimony questioned). Plus, some explanation of disbelief — and [...]

  19. 19.

    The question I’m most interested in is, WHY did you hate The Incredibles? It’s certainly a valid opinion, but it’s a mystifying one.

  20. 20.

    I’ve heard that the best thing that ever came out of Utah Valley is I15. Just remember whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

    The best thing about situations with a strong suck factor is that when they’re over the sweetness is wonderful. That’s how it was for me when I left Provo.

    God didn’t make everyone to be Mobots.

  21. 21.

    I’m sorry you’ve been pushed to love church and not just to participate, Amalthea. I find your willingness to participate even in the face of feeling so little acceptance admirable.

    Oddly enough, I may be even more of a heretic than you are, but I find church participation much easier. Although, to be fair, I don’t say much about my heresies at church.

  22. 22.

    I didn’t like The Incredibles either. And was surprised to hear a good friend tell me all the reasons she liked it. I said, “Yeah, I can see why you’d like the movie for those reasons, but those reasons don’t work for me.”

    Same thing happens with church – I can see why others find immense value in participating, but their reasons don’t resonate with me.

    And I think that’s okay. If we all liked the same things for the same reasons, life would be dull and boring. But part of the fruits of diversity is that some of the fruits are on the ends of the branches. But we’re still fruits, even when the birds peck at us and the wind blows hardest where we are – we get the best sun and rain and we have great views. I don’t think the owner of the vineyard will toss us out because we’re growing in a different place and may look a bit misshapen.

  23. 23.

    [...] Amalthea has had what is to me a very perplexing post at Zelophehad’s Daughters: Why I don’t really love the church (and why I think God’s okay with it.) A snippet: I have spent my entire life in the church, and I feel pretty confident it’s where God [...]

  24. 24.

    I will never gain acceptance; because the institution and its people don’t want me for who I am – they just want me for who they think I should be.

    Well, for what it’s worth, I think I’m one of its people, and I like you the way you are quite a bit.

  25. 25.

    Well said, LRC.

  26. 26.

    Thanks for all the responses! (I’m sorry I’ve been so slow to reply.)

    SNielsen, you pose a very interesting question. I think my response would be to explain to God why I don’t want to live in Utah Valley, and please, can I live somewhere else? If God still insisted that’s where I should live, I would ask for an explanation why. (Think Nephi killing Laban.) And if God was still insistent, I would – reluctantly, but I would do it.

    Bradley – hee! I laughed.

    MB – thanks! :)

    Ziff – we’ll have to compare competing heresies some day.

    Jack, I wish that was the case. While I’ve known plenty of good members in the Church, I’ve also known a number who are, in my interactions with them, terrible people. Terrible in the way they, for example, exploit their callings, believing that the persecution of my character is mandated by God simply because they, in their calling, are “called of God.” In fact, the closest I ever came to leaving the Church was specifically because of its people.

    Sara Bay – Heh, you got me. I’ve never actually liked any of the Pixar movies (though I thought Monsters Inc. was okay). I’m hyper-sensitive to the depiction of women in film and television, and what I felt to be stereotypes grated on my nerves. I also found it a tad predictable – though I’m willing to admit that also may just be my film-major-wannabe-writer acting the snob. :)

    To everyone who also struggles with staying and asked why I do, the reason I do is this: because ultimately, I think it’s where God wants me to be. And when I pull away all issues I struggle with (feminism, the definition of morality, etc.) I do think the gospel is true. Though I tend to differentiate that in my mind from “the Church” – partly because I feel like The Gospel is for everyone…but The Church (as is) is not. And as long as it’s run by mortals, never will or can be.

    I tend to discuss this sort of thing with trepidation because I’ve had so many experiences of people while I was growing up that were trying to draw this kind of thing out of me, simply so they could say, “I told you so!” as if my admission that the Gospel is true is somehow an invalidation of everything I struggle with and dislike in the Church. In fact, I feel like the “I told you so!” mentality is a big reason I don’t tend to get along with more orthodox types. But that may very well be an entirely different discussion.

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