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But God has something better planned…

November 26, 2011

A while back, I wrote on whether religions approached the world pessimistically or optimistically. That is, given all sorts of personal and institutional injustices that we face, should we view them as things that we can work to change in this world and in this life, or should we look to them as things so fundamental to the human condition that we have to learn to accept these things?

In the latter case, the answer for coping usually comes in making some sort of break between the ideal and the real. Some people might put all of the sins and bad stuff in the world on the material body, and as a result, they will adopt a religious system that idealizes a future, spiritual/non-bodily existence.

Even for religions that do not demonize the body (or in fact, make the body central to the religious framework, as Mormonism does), there is this sense that there are some things that must be borne out, and the way to do this is by hoping that an idealized future will be brought (divinely) into being.

I’ve recently begun rethinking the pessimistic framework that religions can have, and I think there’s one major problem to it.

What things ought to be changed?

I could probably summarize my previous link in the following way: The optimist feels there are things that ought to be changed, that one can work on changing in this life. The pessimist feels there are things that ought to be changed, but one cannot work on changing them in this life.

But in either position, it’s unclear what things ought to be changed.

Earlier, I talked about personal and institutional injustices. But what are those injustices? I’ll use one extreme example to illustrate:

Currently, there are a lot of “issues” regarding race…there’s a lot of racial inequality, racial oppression, and things like that. It wasn’t too long ago that Mormonism had its own issues with race and the priesthood, of course. What does a black person undergoing the unfairnesses of having a darker skin color respond? Does she…

  1. Hope that in the idealized future, she will become white?
  2. Work toward dismantling social privileges toward certain races and against other races?

Either addresses the injustice, so to speak. But depending on what side you are on, you will probably view the other option as being inconceivable or repugnant. (I have met people on both sides of this issue, btw. It’s pretty awkward when you hear from a guy who thinks he’s complimenting what he perceives to be your righteousness by saying that he’s sure you will be white in the celestial kingdom. I’m not saying that is an official LDS viewpoint, but I think that there are some people who grew up Way Back When who still hold these folklore views.)

But this isn’t a post about race.

So What Is This Post About?

Have any of you checked out (Gay) Mormon Guy? (It’s just Mormon Guy, he will say in comments…the (Gay) is just in the title, and it’s silent anyway.) It’s a conservative LDS blog to the whole being-gay-and-being-LDS at the same time deal.

The one thing that I like about the blog is that Mormon Guy seems to be really gay.

Wait, I don’t mean it like that.

I don’t mean that he’s “stereotypical” or whatever…but that he doesn’t seem to be a fake. He seems real.

(Does that make it clearer? Maybe not.)

As an example, check out his post from earlier this year: Homosexuality Isn’t Just About Sexuality. Within it, he adeptly explains a concept that I’m sure many gay people would love to explain: that sexuality isn’t just about sex. As such, the problem with celibacy isn’t just the lack of sex, but the lack of companionship, the unfulfilled emotional, social, and intellectual needs. His current attempts to date only highlight the problems: he’s going through motions with women because he is not attracted on any of these levels.

The double standard between heterosexuals and homosexuals exacerbates this issue…Although there are many aspects of lack of companionship that single straight individuals absolutely face as well, there is this sense to which they generally have possibility or potential to fulfill those needs in a socially accepted way. However, gay individuals don’t get to say, “One day, I’ll find the right guy whom my parents will approve.” Because in this sphere, no gay relationship will be approved.

This continues further: what can chaste, celibate straight couples do and remain chaste and celibate? No one bats an eye at hand-holding, hugging, kissing (as long as it’s not too steamy), etc.,

Men don’t have these options available, and gay men don’t even have language in an LDS discourse for a “chaste, celibate gay relationship.”

So, in the comments to the article, Mormon Guy laments at how society has changed…how in the past, there were socially accepted venues for chaste male touch, and what-not. Today, you basically only get that possibility through full-contact sports (and this makes me wonder…how many guys playing football/rugby/wrestling/whatever are doing that because no one will bat an eye if they touch another dude’s butt?)

Anyway, I’m digressing. The point is, Mormon Guy seems to have an acute awareness of these issues, of the double bind here, and the way that human institutions are in many ways inadequate. Even more, Mormon Guy has a captive audience — whereas liberal/disaffected/non-LDS gay people can’t even get a foot in the door of more conservative or religious straight or gay individuals, Mormon Guy definitely has an audience of people who probably learn a lot from his blog.

…and that’s what I like. The blog, however, is kinda depressing and frustrating at other times…because, as I mentioned earlier on, Mormon Guy will point out that the (Gay) is silent. He is Mormon Guy. He is really Mormon.

So, while each blog entry usually has a pretty well-thought out thing about gay issues, it usually has a very LDS conclusion. A couple of paragraph ago, I noted that Mormon Guy is aware of the ways that human institutions are flawed. But in the end, it’s all about trusting God and the Gospel, so that’s that. As he states in a comment to that article:

There may be tons of gay Mormons, or just gay guys, out there who are willing and anxious to hold my hands, cuddle, look into my eyes, and practice abstinence until same-sex marriage… but all of them have already lost my interest completely… because I don’t believe that a romantic relationship between two men is the right answer. I know you don’t agree with me. But God has something better planned… something that requires that I turn to Him, completely, and rely on Him for all my needs. From my perspective, God really is asking us to sacrifice more than just physicality – He’s not just asking us to give up sexual activities, but romantic ones too…. same-sex marriage, romance between guys, gay dating, and a host of other facets – whether or not they have been explicitly outlined in General Conference.

As this post’s title references, it was the line that begins “But God has something better planned” that drove me to write about this post. This points to the idealized future for which Mormon Guy hopes.

Although Mormon Guy’s comment wasn’t addressed to me, he’s right that I don’t agree with him.  Mormon Guy realizes the depth of the injunction to celibacy; he understands the social implications thereof, double standards and social unfairnesses…but the distinction to me is that his religion compels him to hope not for a world in which those double standards will be resolved, but rather for one in which…he’ll be rid of that same-sex attraction and will be able to have companionship with a woman.

The frustration comes from the sense that, at least at some level, Mormon Guy may realize that he could have a fulfilling relationship and have his emotional, intellectual, and physical needs met. He’s not at the place that many repressed or closeted individuals are where they don’t even think a relationship could be anything more than physical flings.

Yet, for him, since his religion says that’s not the right answer, it’s off the table. As he himself says, he’s not just giving up sexual activities, but romantic ones…companionship itself.

A Different Example

Of course, this isn’t the only way that Mormonism can compel people, however. In many ways, John G-W at Young Stranger is in a similar boat — believing Mormon who is also gay and has a deep awareness of the issues with both of those — but G-W comes to a considerably different position. I don’t mean that he has rejected Mormonism (although in official respects, the church has rejected him), because he hasn’t.

Rather, he takes a look at a more complex and Mormon framework for embodiment, the value of companionship and relationships, etc., and points out that these ought to be viewed positively — whether for straight people are for gay people. S0 his hope is considerably different — it’s more that one day, the church will allow him back within (and recognize his relationship as good.)

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  1. I liked this post a lot, it was really interesting and clarified some things for me (like the incompatibility of those two world views).

  2. yeah, DD, I definitely think it’s interesting how two people from the same religion can come to two very different worldviews. Although, maybe that’s not really surprising…

    • It’s people like this guy (and Soy Made Me Gay) that led me out of Mormonism. When I realized what we were doing to people that I could sympathize with, my prayers changed from “God, confirm my bias” to “Why, really why, does it have to be this way?”

      I’m so glad that he’s got an audience, and I hope that they learn a lot from him. (And if somebody quotes me to silence him, I hope that they learn from that too.)

  3. Seth R. permalink

    It should also be mentioned that there are people in the LDS Church who believe that heterosexuality will be something we “grow out of” when we become gods as well. I used to hear that occasionally in Utah.

    And look at a religion like Buddhism – which talks about the annihilation of self entirely as you achieve nirvana. I presume that annihilation includes your sexual preferences.

    Or look at atheism – which just embraces the idea of nothingness after death entirely.

    Presumably, that nothingness would include the annihilation of the “core attribute” of sexuality.

    So it’s not just the Mormons aiming for an end to the “homosexual question.” Atheists and Buddhists are gunning for it too.

    • Even if a person in the afterlife “grew out of their heterosexuality,” I think it’s pretty clear that in LDS theology people don’t “grow out of their families.” A person would still be married to their spouse in the afterlife whether or not they’re having afterlife-sex with that person. So, as much as the Church would like to think the “homosexual question” is just about people’s worldly sexual preferences, the fact of the matter is, there are people of the same gender in relationships for years and decades — who even often raise children together — who are in families. Are you suggesting that these families get separated in Heaven

      • Seth R. permalink

        Isn’t that just as true of heterosexual LDS couples who adopt children. Or LDS men who marry women who already had children to other LDS husbands (like my friend recently did)?

  4. Seth,

    That viewpoint (heterosexuality also will be something to grow out of) is interesting, considering the importance of embodiment in LDS theology. It makes more sense to talk about that in a non-LDS Christian concept (e.g., because in other denominations, there won’t even be *marriage* in the afterlife.) Definitely makes more sense in Buddhism.

    I think you’re being a little coy. It’s not that atheists are aiming for an end to the “homosexual question.” In other words, the lack of an afterlife is not an “answer” to a question of what should be changed in order for people to be perfect/better/etc., Rather, it’s just how things are.

    (And buddhism is more addressing its idea that false attachments is what should change/be eliminated…and that includes much of what we *think* is a part of us.)

  5. Rob permalink

    (Gay) Mormon Guy’s blog has been very well known to the broader online gay Mormon community for some time. I know two people who have met him personally, though he is incredibly secretive about his identity, which to me bespeaks a level of fear that is unhealthy. But that’s a side issue.

    I agree that (G)MG does seem to comprehend the “double bind” gay Mormons face. However, you and your readers may be interested to know also that he relentlessly pontificates, preaches, sermonizes, follows a single basic script for every post, has hundreds of almost entirely straight female blog followers, sees himself as an evangelist for the same strict and absolute celibacy that he also admits is condemning him to a life of sad loneliness, yet he seems intent on trying to deceive himself that maybe the next girl will be the one to finally spark some real straight attraction. While deceiving himself thusly, he also doesn’t hesitate to hold himself out on his blog as having saved others’ spiritual lives. He censors comments to his blog heavily and allows no comments that contradict him or what he believes the church teaches. In this he errs on the side of excluding anything remotely controversial.

    Because of all that, many in the online gay Mormon community consider him a self-anointed Pharisee so slavishly devoted to LDS cultural orthodoxy that he’s incapable of balanced or objective analysis. Everything in his life MUST be made to fit the single spiritual mold he believes God demands, and which for him is the only acceptable path for anyone. They (myself included) consider his blog an echo chamber for the ultra-orthodox which generates much heat for those who’d love to live 24/7 in the Seminary & Institute Building, but no light at all for those who live in the real world.

    • Rob,

      I think that the summary of this is as I mentioned…he’s gay…but he’s definitely Mormon as well. So, you can explain a lot of his posts from that second point.

  6. Seth R. permalink

    Andrew, I’m not being coy at all.

    “The way things are” is a catch-phrase that atheists like to use a lot.

    “Oh, I’m just telling things the way they really are.”

    But if you listen carefully to the online atheists making this argument, you’ll usually find that they emotionally connect to “the way things are” as a tidy solution to these issues that they find personally disturbing.

    The void is a clean solution to all manner of problems. It wipes away all the mess, suffering, ambiguity in one clean stark swipe.

    For a lot of atheists deeply upset at how the world and its traditional values have “let them down” the idea of a nice sterilized, clean state of oblivion is deeply EMOTIONALLY attractive.

    So I’m not being coy at all.

    This is absolutely a “solution” for the atheists. This talk of it being “the way things are” is merely a smoke screen for an emotionally driven desire.

  7. Seth,

    That would be plausible if atheists looked to the void as an exchange for confronting the mess, suffering, and ambiguity they face. But that’s not what atheists generally do…in fact, the atheist catch-phrase is that if there isn’t an afterlife, then we have to make the best of this life here. We have to work on fixing things here, rather than hoping on some idealized afterlife.

    When people say “the way things are,” that is a distinction from “the way things should be.” Quite frankly, many atheists (at least, ones in modernized “western” countries) don’t see homosexuality as something that should not be.

    So, your description rings hollow here.

    Even for atheists deeply upset at how the world and its traditional values have let them down, a sterilized, clean state of oblivion is not the answer to what things “should be.” Rather, atheists promote action in the here and now to challenge those traditional values. I mean, have you ever even talked to atheists???

    (P.S., I’m aware that since atheism isn’t something with set and defined values, and that one has to look for those things in their worldview, whatever it may be…it’s possible that you’ve met some atheists who do think this way. Maybe I just don’t hang out in those crowds, but that’s not what I hear/see/read.)

  8. Seth R. permalink

    Andrew, I talk in one month to more atheists than most Mormons will talk with in their entire lives.

    And I’ve increasingly grown to see “the way things are” as simply a question-begging copout. It’s not just “the way things are” – it’s the way atheists WANT them to be.

    The atheists I interact with do not WANT there to be a hereafter – because they find the concept disturbing and unpleasant (“what kind of a monster god would….” etc, etc.). You can say that no-hereafter is just the “way things are.”

    That doesn’t make it less of an emotional solution for atheists.

    Especially not when they tout the superiority of the void over the hereafter in various debates (which happens all the time Andrew – you know it does).

  9. Seth, even if you talk with more atheists than most Mormons would in their lives, I guess that’s not really saying much.

    I think most people — atheists included — would like there to be an afterlife. In most discussions, I see, what people find disturbing and unpleasant is the idea that at some point, they will cease to exist.

    However, notwithstanding all of that, it’s just a matter of whether one can believe there is an afterlife or not. The atheists you speak to may find particular formulations of the afterlife disturbing and unpleasant (and they may also find the idea of nonexistence disturbing and unpleasant as well), but that doesn’t account for the afterlife in general. Neither does that have an impact on what one is compelled to believe is actually the case.

    Ultimately, however one longs or wishes for whatever or another, those wishes don’t matter. The emotional solution (which, I still think for many people would include continued existence) doesn’t override what one actually thinks is the case.

  10. Seth R. permalink

    No, I think the emotional solution does override what one thinks is actually the case.

    In the human situation, simply thinking something “is the case” doesn’t really count for much. It doesn’t motivate anything.

    The “let’s make a better today” thing is nice, but it doesn’t automatically attach to whether you think there is or is not an afterlife. Trying to improve your here-and-now is actually NOT a logical necessitated result of thinking there is no afterlife. You can just as easily reach such conclusions about after-death in the grips of apathy and depression.

  11. Seth,

    I think “is the case” does motivate. If it “is the case” that a car is coming at you, and if it “is the case” that a car hitting you will cause you to have excruciating pain, then if you want to avoid that pain, you will dodge the car. But if it’s not the case that the car is coming at you (it’s not real, for example), then you don’t need to dodge anything.

    You’re right that “let’s make a better today” is not automatically attached to whether there is or is not an afterlife. However, I’m just pointing out that many atheists incidentally happen to believe that we have to make things better in the here and now because they do not have an afterlife to defer things off to.

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