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Godwho: Thoughts from a former Mormon

By Deana Jensen.  Posted by Daniel Geery (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 8 pages)     Permalink

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In a moment of weakness I said, "Yes." when my eldest son asked me to commit to paper my philosophy of life. At that moment I didn't realize the enormity of the task of reporting something which has taken seventy-three years to reach its present condition and is still in a state of flux. But the boy wants it and you know how mothers are, if their child wants something they will attempt to move heaven, hell and highwater to get it for him. Perhaps that isn't an apt analogy to use in discussing something as sacred as God, but before we reach the end of this dissertation you may find it more than apropos.

I said this was going to be my philosophy of life so right there you can see that this is not going to be a mimic of something that has been said before. This will be ME. If anything appears here which has been said before it will be because I agree with it and for no other reason.

To understand a person's philosophy the reader must know where a person was raised, what kind of a childhood he had, and what influenced him to develop the philosophy he now possesses. You wouldn't expect a person to talk like Plato if he'd grown up as a water-boy on a slave ship. Absolutely not. If Plato had spent any time at all as a water-boy on a slave ship you can be sure his philosophy would have been of a different color altogether from what it was. So I must begin at my beginning.

For me my birth was particularly fortunate. First of all I was born healthy and strong into a family which, either deliberately or because they had too many children for the small house in which they lived and the size of their income, was one of benign neglect. Just the processes involved to feed and clothe the growing tribe consumed their limited resources to the point that there were little means and time left over to devote to our intellectual and spiritual growth. Our parents loved us and we knew they loved us but we were many times left to our own devises. Blessedly we were free of overt teachings about how God wanted us to act and what would happen to us if we didn't act that way. They were kind moral people and they expected us to be kind moral people and that was about the extent of it.

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So like little Eva my philosophy just growed. Of course I heard about God, mostly from Sunday School and Primary teachers. It was from them, not my mother, that I learned about saying my prayers at night, kneeling down by the side of the bed with eyes closed and hand palms together, fingernails scratching my chin, and talking to someone whose abode was strangely vague. It was very disconcerting to do this in a small 10 by 10 bedroom with four sisters in differing stages of dress and undress, talking about something not quite compatible with conversations with God. That was a condition on summer nights.

Winter nights were quite another matter. With no heat in the room and with winter's wind flapping through the ever present hole in the window glass, kneeling on the cold inhospitable floor, conversations with God tended to be of the briefest kind. When prayers were said under the covers with my warm breath thawing cold fingers there was always fear that words said in that irreverent position never went beyond the top quilt. It is only logical that when one doesn't speak with God, God will remain silent.

In those early years I had no doubt that God existed. He lived in that square rock churchhouse in Banida, Idaho, with its big starey windows, which sat across the street from the yellow brick schoolhouse. At nights when I had stayed too long playing with my cousins at Aunt Liddy Geddes's and I'd run home between those two buildings I could hear my footsteps echoing back and forth like God was clapping his hands as he saw me pass. Whether God was clapping in approval or as a warning I never knew. That was the nearest I ever came to conversations with the old fellow,

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We had memorized prayers we usually said at the dinner table. Dad always called on the youngest person seated to say the prayer. By the time we reached a point of being creative in those prayers our years of service were over.

Children disperse their own philosophy among their peers. One thing I found out was that God gave rules about where you ate your snacks. Banida, like most rural places in southern Idaho in the nineteen twenties, had very little indoor plumbing. The Palace of Necessity was usually a four by four foot square building sitting over a pit of sufficient depth and containing a seat with two or more holes where personal functions took place. In winter one chose to stay there only as long as absolutely necessary, but in summer it was a quiet moment conducive to reflection and introspection.

Many of my daydreams and air castles found substance in those rare moments of privacy. My friends informed me very early that I must never, at any time, consume food within the four walls. No one ever mentioned the sanitary implications of such an act. But they gravely informed me that such an act would be "feeding the Devil and starving the Lord." Far be it from me to cause the old fellow any discomfort. Things were pretty bad in Banida with the depression and all so I could well visualize similar conditions most likely would exist in heaven. I avoided starving the Lord at all costs.

My concept of just what or who God was grew in that small, confined, nonintellectual environment. God was one being, manlike. I imagined it was possible that I could meet him on the street and shake his hand and say "How do you do." He wasn't some mystical entity called love, or morality. or the essence of all being. Christ was a personage apart, an actual son of God. Christ was not God incarnate.

My mother would sometimes wax mystical and talk of strange happenings like the lost ten tribes of Israel who probably lived on a planet attached to our North Pole, or the three Nephites who would never taste death but roamed the earth helping people out when they most needed it. One day when I was helping her make cookies she asked me if I knew what the unforgivable sin was. I, already indoctrinated however lopsidedly in the Mormon ethic, answered, "Smoking."

She didn't laugh. The implications of what I had said evidently didn't dawn on her. She solemnly informed me that the unforgivable sin was denying Christ. "You have to have a sure knowledge of Christ before you can deny him," she continued. I can't tell you how relieved I was that I wasn't bordering on purgatory. I didn't know that much about Christ, except for Christmas, so I was in no danger of denying him.
I was always sorry I never knew my mother well. I left home to go to high school when I was fifteen and went back to Banida only one summer after that. I don't know what her philosophy was which relieves me of a lot of anxiety. If I knew what her philosophy was compared to mine today I'm sure I would be burdened with guilt. Too often a person's philosophy is a carbon copy of what his parent's were. Many hang on to unsatisfactory ideas because they don't want to hurt their dear parents. That is a personal choice everyone has to make. So that is why I say I was blessed with benign neglect.

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Perhaps my beginning seems facetious. It isn't meant to be. The main purpose is to show the reader my naivete and how totally unprepared I was to challenge anything I had been deliberately or inadvertently taught.

In 1847 the Mormon people separated themselves from the United States by a move west to a place shunned by most western immigrants. For decades they mixed affairs of church and state into their own type of theocracy where philosophical investigation was not only discouraged but was regarded as heretical. So in the small town of Banida no one challenged what church leaders said. God was three personages, God the Father, Jesus Christ was God's son, and the Holy Ghost.

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, had seen them in person and talked with them, so he claimed. He received from God the precious gold plates from which he "translated" an history of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent who had been visited by Jesus Christ before his ascension into heaven. Joseph Smith was not only the instrument through which God gave that Book of Mormon to the world but he talked with God on many other subjects from where to build houses, what not to eat and drink, to how to get married so that a man's wife or wives, would follow him to the next world and there produce spirit children to populate other worlds.

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In my run for U.S. Senate against Utah's Orrin Hatch, I posted many progressive ideas and principles that I internalized over the years. I'm leaving that site up indefinitely, since it describes what I believe most members of our species truly (more...)
 

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