Saturday, May 19, 2007

Don't be such a martyr

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Again. Finally.

And I still love it! Like an old friend, it patiently awaited me as I slogged through finals and everything else the universe has been offering up. It sat on the floor of my room (where pretty much everything has been flung and scattered the last few weeks, so it was in good company) and I would eye it but I could not touch, I could not give in to the tempataion, I had to keep moving. On Wednesday after the last final, I crouched down to scoop up the novel in my arms and nearly cried with relief.

So. I don't really remember where William has disappeared to (maybe he's just having a nap) but Adso is talking to Ubertino and hanging around the library by himself and even, bizarrely, encountering a woman in the kitchen! And when I say "encountering a woman in the kitchen" I mean it in the "what Sawyer thought Jack meant when he said he and Kate were caught in a net" sort of way. We are totally getting into the Woman, thou art the embodiment of evil, oh temptress, oh vessel of sin stuff. Good times.

Just before that, however, Adso remembers the execution of heretic Brother Michael who died defying the bishops and pope whom he considered apostate. Adso has it on good hearsay that Brother Michael said, "If we read with such fervor the doctrine of certain sainted abbots, how much greater should be our fervor and our joy in desiring to be in their midst?" (p. 235) Which, I have to say, reminds me of something that has stuck with me from childhood.

As many of you (many? maybe. who are you, anyway? who's reading this?) know, I was pretty much raised Mormon, although some of you don't know that because it's so not in the Top 10 Things I Reveal About Myself these days. More like the Top Ten Significant Things That Manage To Stay Hidden Until I've Known You For a While Unless, Inexplicably, I Trust You Right Off the Bat. (It occurs to me that if I actually made that list, the title might be longer than the ten items.) Well, Mormons are seriously misunderstood. Although they are possibly about to be either much better understood or even more seriously misunderstood, as presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's publicists seems to have found a great way for him to avoid talking about the political issues by just talking about what it means to be Mormon all the time.

Anyway, I always try to dissuade people from disliking the things they've got wrong about the religion ("lots of wives" "magic underwear" "not allowed to drink soda") because the real things that are wrong with the religion are so much more worth disliking! So this one time when I was about eight I was being fed one of the usual legends of founding prophet Joseph Smith's greatness, decidedly free of grains of salt. Mormonism is a fascinating study of modern-day folklore. Forget the claims of angelic visions and golden tablets; the mundane day-to-day life of Joseph Smith is mythologized enough. This particular day we were talking about when when he and his brother were shot and killed by an angry mob at Carthage Jail, aka his martyrdom. They were pretty much imprisoned for their beliefs (although I hear that only happens in Cuba, eh) (ooh, watch out, don't step in the puddle of sarcasm) and now that I think about it, it would be kind of interesting to revisit the whole event from a human rights perspective. But when I was eight I had no perspective, and instead I gobbled up the sweet story of martyrdom and was flat out told in my little Sunday School class that should we ever be placed in the position we, too, must be prepared to die for our religion.

Now, being the bright and inquisitive (albeit perspective-lacking) eight-or-so-year-old that I was, I then required further elaboration. Like, really? I had to say "the church is true" if it came down to my life? The Mormons are big on that phrase "I know the church is true." It's like a little shorthand for Jesus died for us, the Catholics have long since gone astray, the Protestants haven't quite got it right either, Joseph Smith came to save the day, read The Book of Mormon, be worthy to enter the temple, go on a mission if you're a boy, have lots of kids, etc.) It's kind of weird, if you think about it. Spin. How can a "church" be true or false? But, you see, The Church is this all-encompassing thing. It lives. And, they testify, is true.

I pressed the point with my teacher. "What if someone had a gun to my head and said they won't kill me if I just say that the church is not true? What if I cross my fingers behind my back or something? Or can I say it and save my life and then repent really quick for lying?" And my teacher gravely said she hoped I would be able to do the right thing and be prepared to defend the true church. Can you imagine saying that crap to an eight-year-old kid? I mean, it's ridiculous for anyone, really. At my grandmother's funeral this past weekend (that's the Catholic side of my family) the priest went on about how Christ on the cross is the ultimate sign, or symbol. SYMBOLISM, people. Even IF you believe Jesus "died for us" then Joseph Smith didn't "need" to die and neither does random Mormon-on-the-street, least of all some little kid! But there I was, wholly convinced I was going to sooner or later face the terror of being killed for saying, "The Church is true." No wonder I was scared out of my wits lying in bed at night. Maybe it wasn't the fault of The Shining and Helter Skelter after all. (The Exorcist can perhaps still be implicated.)

Years later at BYU I learned another Mormon legend that basically says denying the Holy Ghost and murder are the only two unforgivable sins. Which is kind of an interesting twist on the whole martyrdom thing, if you think about it. Like, I imagine God and or various judging angels (kind of like God's law clerks) gazing down at someone with the gun to someone else's head: "Say it! There is no holy spirit guiding you!" And God et. al. wondering which one will become the Unforgiven.

Perspective, people. Instant perspective. Just add salt.


amy c said...

oh lord woman.

i remember pondering that very thing so gravely. so somberly. thinking about those who have given up so much for their religion. Not even something so huge as their lives, but their homes, their family, their children, their possessions..

I REMEMBER coming to the oh so resolute decision that I WOULD DO IT! I would be killed rather than deny my faith!!

Seriously. I think it's just another form of the brainwash.

Word. Salt. Yo.

Heather said...

i like this post and your corresponding post on the other blog. The other one was funny. THis one was thought-provoking. It has made me think about the things that people don't know about other people until much later. I don't think I knew this about you. Although it is true that I have a terrible memory and at times have been known to zone out during conversations. You are really interesting to listen to, so I don't think I zoned out. I am going to say that I just didn't know this about you. Which made me wonder if there are things that other people don't find out about me until much later. This post also made me think about my religious upbringing and how it is I came to believe the things I do now. Thanks for the post.

Are you allowed in the temple right now? my friend in Puerto Rico is not allowed but she goes anyway because she didn't tell anyone she was excommunicated. WOuld you ever do that?