Proving Something Important

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My family and I have gotten along pretty well in some ways. OK, I am the black sheep and have profound political and religious differences with them, but they just go along most of the time as if there was no one in their midst who disagrees with them, and most of the time I don’t make a stink about it. I fold my arms and say “amen” when there’s a blessing on the food, even if it involves requesting blessings for President Monson. I make a point to congratulate my nieces and nephews on their baptisms. I simply walk out of the room when someone has Fox News on. I turn off lights (and more lights, and unused appliances, and unplug cell phone chargers and adapters plugged into the wall with nothing plugged into them) rather than pointing out how careless and profligate a certain branch of the family is when it comes to electricity and power. I even went to Nauvoo, Palmyra, the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah with my parents, because those places were near where I was living, and they wanted to see them. Until Friday, I never said anything to anyone about how vile I consider the Proclamation on the Family.

Sometimes it takes all my willpower not to say something. One night at dinner during the cruise my family took together, a certain lawyer in my family commented that one reason the church is so afraid of gay marriage is because it knows that if gay marriage is legalized, there’s much more chance that polygamy will be decriminalized, and the church would be caught in a terrible dilemma, since it will never embrace polygamy again but doesn’t want to be forced to admit that. Another of the women stated passionately that she believed the way polygamy would work was through cloning, that God would simply make additional copies of each man righteous enough to make it to the celestial kingdom, and in any event, that better be what was going to happen, because she would never share her husband with another woman. Eventually I just rose from the table and walked about the deck for a while. But I really wanted to vomit, and scream.

At the Sacred Grove, my dad went on all the tours, though he commented on how insulted he felt that there were all these young missionaries delivering long spiels about basic church doctrine and practice, as if the people on these tours didn’t know the first thing about the church, even though 95% of the visitors to the sites were Mormon. Even my mom got so annoyed she wouldn’t do the last few tours. (I of course wouldn’t do any; I just walked around on my own.) Dad came back from a tour of the recreation of the tiny farm house where Joseph Smith had grown up, and said, “Most of these tours are a waste of time, but I learned something important on that one.”

“What was that?” Mom asked.

“Well, in pictures of the first visit, you always see Joseph alone in a bedroom while the angel Moroni talks to him. But it turns out that he was in a loft with two beds in it, and there were three boys in each bed. The girls were in a loft on the other side of the cabin. Joseph was surrounded by other people when the first visit happened. Some of them were sleeping only inches away from him. But no one else heard or saw a thing. And that proves something really important.”

I caught my breath and waited. Was my father about to admit that Joseph Smith was a fraud, that he'd made the whole story up? After all, that was the logical conclusion, the most obvious inference to draw from what he’d just discovered. But what my father went on to say was, “It proves that if God has a vision for you, he can make it happen so that you and you alone see it.”

He went on to explain that this was of doctrinal importance, because some offshoot of the church claimed that someone had seen the light under the door and heard the noise when God or an angel appeared to someone alone in a room with the door shut, and used this secondary observation of a heavenly visitation as proof of someone’s authority to do something counter to the preferences of the real Mormon church.

It was hard not to laugh. It was hard to acknowledge just how vast was my father’s capacity for self-deception. It wasn’t hard not to say something, because what could I say that would A) persuade him how flawed his thinking was and B) not piss him off?

Occasionally I’ve said something. Sometimes it’s been angry and inflammatory. On the cruise I finally said something when a conversation arose about the war. I was so angry I couldn’t refrain, though I didn’t say nearly as much as I wanted to. I found out from my mother the other day that one of my in-laws has never forgiven me for that--and of course part of what made my statement unforgivable was the fact that I was, from the start, right about the war and how disastrous it would be.

Sometimes I’ve said things that aren’t inflammatory, just clear statements of my boundaries. Particularly given how angry my family becomes when I air my views, I have forbidden them from bearing their testimonies to me. One Sunday I agreed to go on a drive with my family to look for the graves of family members who chose to be buried in the middle of the nowhere rather than a proper cemetery. The driver put in a cd of church songs for children, horrible smarmy indoctrination set to bad music. I took several deep breaths, and said, “Please take me home or else change the music, because I absolutely cannot listen to this.”

Mercifully the cd was removed, and we listened to classical music instead. But my nephew was unhappy and said, “Why did you change the music?”

The answer: “Because Holly asked us to listen to something else.”

But couldn’t they have guessed beforehand how much I would hate that music? Couldn’t they have thought about why I wouldn’t want to listen to the Articles of Faith set to music? Couldn’t they have made a gesture so I didn’t HAVE to say something?

As my sister told me Friday, No. They couldn’t. It’s too hard to try to imagine what my life is like or how I feel. I shouldn’t ask that of them.

Admittedly, she backed off from that eventually and said she’d try to have more empathy--though she had trouble remembering the word and at first said she’d have more apathy.

That to me sums up political conservatism: I can't imagine what life is like for other people, because it's too hard. After a lot of prodding, I can grudgingly admit that my attitude is really uncool and violates the religious creed I advocate, and I'll say I'll try to do better, but empathy is so rarely used in my vocabulary or my life that I confuse it with apathy.

Heretofore I have tried to protect my family from my blog in a couple of ways: I’ve never suggested they read it, and I’ve written very little about them that wasn't bland and complimentary. But I think a discussion of certain things is now warranted. For one thing, I’m tired of being punished for being right by people who can’t admit that they were wrong. I was right and my family was wrong about the war, about climate change, about what Bush’s economic policies would do. I think they need to be accountable for that, and I’m saying so publicly.

For another, I predict that McCain and Palin will win, and the results will be disastrous. My entire family is going to vote for John and Sarah, and it may well cost at least a few of them their jobs, because they work in areas of business or industry made vulnerable by the Bush administration’s fiscal recklessness. If that does happen--and I pray it won’t, but I think it will--I want it on record that I could see, even if they couldn’t, where their foolishness would lead.

5 Comments

Holly, if you wait for them to admit they are wrong you will wait a long long time. To admit they are wrong on one single point requires admission on so many other points, since they are all connected, that their house of cards tumbles. It is much easier for them to see you as wayward and deceived regardless of the evidence, just as it is so much easier to believe the Genesis creation story than to accept the scientific evidence (and the implications).

Hi Parker--

You're right. But the problem for me is that my family claims that my wayward deception requires from them all this forbearance and tolerance, that they have to tiptoe around me for fear that I'll freak out. However, I feel that their behavior is so automatic, their assumptions about the rightness and appropriateness of their behavior so profound, that they can't even begin to see how much I put up with, much less do any real analysis of the rhetoric of the church or what that all means.

I guess I don't know what family means anymore. I don't know how much loyalty I want to offer or expect from certain people just because we're biologically related. I know dealing with family issues is often really hard, and I envy people who don't have certain problems. I'm just trying to think about the best way to deal with mine.

Sounds like it's time for a family vacation. From them, not with them--at least while things are so heated.

I'm reminded of the Dorothy Parker quip, "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." You can't *make* your family be more mindful or relate to you differently or to admit you're right even when it's patently obvious.

I know what it's like to WANT that vindication or to want to hear, "I'm sorry" or "Wow, we were really off base." But it doesn't usually happen. To get to that level of awareness takes a lot of work--and most people don't put in the time and effort.

You can invite them to empathize and explain what you experience as a result of their unthinking behavior. But they may not ever "get it" to the degree or depth you'd like.

In the meantime, though, you can spend some time thinking about how best to handle the current situation and play with ideas about what these relationships might look like in the future.

Holly, per your comment to Parker and really per your entire post, I can completely relate! I have similar experiences with many in my family. (I'm fortunate in that my siblings will at least listen to and participate in reasoned, rational conversations.) I also do a lot of tippy-toeing around my parents, especially my mother, and I withhold my opinions because I honestly don't want to fight that will follow.

What irritates me is how smug my family members can be about the church and how utterly convinced they are of its rightness. The other day, my father talked about how their ward organist staged a walk out because she was tired of competing with rude, irreverent members during the prelude. My response was, "Good for her!" Well, hell's bells! You'd have thought I'd just stripped off my clothes in the dining room and announced I'd taken a job in Las Vegas as a showgirl!

Anyway--my point is, we understand where our families are coming from and what informs their thinking largely because at some point in our lives we've been where they are. Unfortunately, as you point out, they can't be bothered with the converse. And while you're sister claims it's because it's asking too much of them, I believe the reason our families don't do a better job of trying to empathize is because they're afraid they'll find out we're right, they're wrong, and they'll have to do something proactive with that knowledge. Frankly, given the sense of false security and safety the church provides, I'd be scared to.

As for McCain-Palin, I'm disheartened to hear you think they'll win. In this particular case, I hope this one time you're wrong.

Hi Mary Ellen--

In the meantime, though, you can spend some time thinking about how best to handle the current situation and play with ideas about what these relationships might look like in the future.

This is very sound advice. I don't want to go through this again--I want all of us to be happier. And as I sort of already knew and really know now, I'm the only one I can change in this equation.

Hi Janet--

we understand where our families are coming from and what informs their thinking largely because at some point in our lives we've been where they are. Unfortunately, as you point out, they can't be bothered with the converse. And while you're sister claims it's because it's asking too much of them, I believe the reason our families don't do a better job of trying to empathize is because they're afraid they'll find out we're right, they're wrong, and they'll have to do something proactive with that knowledge.

YES! I was thinking precisely this today. I've read the Book of Mormon. I've voted Republican. I've been horrified and embarrassed to realize that my views on all sorts of things are wrong. I know, with a fairly clear sense, what my family thinks. But they can only guess at what I think and believe, and they get annoyed when I try to make it clear. It's really frustrating.

I'm also disheartened that I think McCain/Palin will win, and I also hope I'm wrong.

And re: the ward organist, I'm totally with you: good for her!

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on September 7, 2008 11:49 AM.

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