Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Happiness (and the pursuit thereof)

I talk a lot about my Mormon upbringing. It seems whenever I explain my positions on anything, I feel a need to bring it up. When I explain how various world circumstances make me feel, it's there. When I elaborate on my beliefs and my basic understanding of the world.

I am not Mormon any more.

And, here's the thing, I didn't hate it when I was.

I really didn't. I loved most of it. It made me feel excited and special and part of something bigger. It gave me context in which to think about the world in that was easy to understand and simple to explain.

And I'm not here to tell you why I don't believe any more. There are lots of reasons. They are personal and sometimes entirely logic based, and other times very much based in things more intuitive. And they don't just explain why I don't believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, they are why I don't believe in God (which is not to say that I think the idea of an afterlife or undiscovered forces are impossible, I just think if such things do exist then they exist without a God behind them, and when it matters in my decisions then I act on the premise that they do not - which includes acting on the premise that this is the only life I get and when I die I'm done forever).

And here's the thing I really want you to understand.

I'm happy.

I feel the need to say this because among many religious people, and my mother especially, happiness is treated as this measurable commodity. More importantly, it is treated as a measurable commodity that can only truly be achieved by a close "relationship" with their particular god. Other people, even if they look happy, can't really be happy, because they don't have that particular brand of religious practice.

My mom would say it during passing conversations in the kitchen. "Honey, I just want you to be happy, and I think this will lead to your happiness."

She would say it when issues of gay rights came up. No matter the science, logic, or facts I would use, she would fall back on God, and her proof was always, "They just don't seem to be very happy or lead very happy lives."

(And this was, of course, always treated as a direct result of their lack of God, not, you know, the discrimination they daily face or anything. You know, that discrimination my mother was validating and adding to in the mere saying of that sentence.)

She would say it about celebrities, about "wayward" extended family members, about basically everyone who wasn't as God-fearing as she.

And when my mother would tell me that she just wanted me to be happy, and I would respond with, "I am happy. I'm happier than I've ever been." she would always say the same thing.

"You don't seem very happy to me."

Of course, living in a home where your ability to believe (or not) freely is daily challenged, where you constantly have to skirt around in conversations and try your hardest to keep your tongue -- in the middle of that, maybe I wasn't.

But that's not all of it. It is probably true that I have been more sad and dower since my path away from the church. In fact, almost certainly. And not just because it was hard to go against the way I was raised. I have definitely been sadder than I've ever been before during and since that journey.

But, and I repeat,

I've never been happier.

Being religious was so small. The happiness and the sadness were both so small. And so stupid. (Sorry to the religious, but that's how it feels in retrospect)

It was stupid. That happiness and sadness.

Because what made me happy and sad when I was really devout? The struggles and successes? Were small, and mostly fictional.

And I don't mean fictional as in "God is FICTION BWAHAHA" I mean fictional in that the problems I was facing and overcoming weren't real problems.

The convenience of the particular religion I was in was that it took all the real problems and shoved them away or justified them. Gays don't have equal rights? Good, God approves. Women making less money? Well women and men are different and women are needed in the home anyway.

And on.

So all the big problems became Not Problems. We only had to kind of fight to keep the status quo (which is easier than fighting for equality and change by miles), because certainly none of those things needed to change.

And in their place we were give little problems. Little problems or non problems that were then treated like Big Temptations, which we could then celebrate avoiding. Like Swearing! Oh, those cuss words are going to come in and corrupt your mind! Don't use them! And rated R movies. Don't watch them, they are Inappropriate! And immodest clothing. Keep your shoulders and abdomen covered, ladies!

And then a leader would come up to you and ask, "Did you avoid these temptations?" and you would say "Yes!" and then he would say, "Good job! You have an excellent relationship with God!" and then I would be happy. In my small, stupid way, I was happy. And the biggest things that made me not happy? When someone said a swear word around me, when people were mean or gossipy, or when I couldn't find a pretty enough 'modest' dress for the formal.

That was my happiness and my sadness. And I look back on it, and while I recognize it, and remember it, it feels stupid. Stupid and small.

It is true that I experience a greater sadness these days than I ever did before I became a ally to equal rights and an activist for the causes of justice that exist out there. It's true. I am frequently not happy.

I cried yesterday morning when I saw the final results of the Prop 8 vote, and learned that thousands of Americans would have a basic right stripped away from them. I cried and cursed the people like my mother who felt such a dire need to protect their small, stupid version of happiness. I was more sad than I had ever been about anything when I still believed in the LDS church and its teachings and followed them without question. (granted, that last time that was completely true, I was probably about 13 or 14).

But, and here's the thing, the thing that makes up for all of it.

When we make even the tiniest dent in the battle for what is just and right,

When I start to see the tiniest glimmer that things are getting better in the world,

It makes me so much happier than I ever was when I believed in God.

(Note: this is not to suggest that belief in God and this happiness are mutually exclusive, but merely to explain why belief in God is not a necessary prerequisite for happiness, as so many would suggest, and how one particular and popular brand of God actually completely disabled my potential for happiness)

1 comment:

Jasie VanGesen said...

Just stumbled upon your blog through comments you left on Kate Harding's page, and I wanted to let you know... I get where you're coming from. I've got a similar upbringing in church and from what it sounds like, a VERY similar mother.