"Are you having fun? It's why you come to camp you know - to have fun." What I believe about Marriage and Mormon theology.
The title is one of my favorite lines from On Golden Pond. Katharine Hepburn's character says it to Jane Fonda's, the one who is dealing with anger and long resentment of her father. Mormons might alter the wording slightly and say we come to camp to find joy; "Men are that they might have joy." So the scripture goes. Of course it means 'humans' are that they might have joy. The language has always been a bit sexist and we haven't changed the word but we conduct our lives assuming the word means something different today than it did in the Middle Ages. Like the journey of the word "Fag." Did anyone see the 'F-word' episode of South Park, where the kids lobby to have the word's meaning legally changed from 'gay people' to 'those annoying loud people who ride Harleys?' I love it when Big Gay Al says we have to keep the word in our lexicon because it's just too much fun to say.
The episode also makes a nod to all those terrible follies that make all of us - all too human: fear, xenophobia, hypocrisy, the wish to dominate over others. "The gays" are more than happy to start a fight and kick the crap out of someone else as long as it takes the heat off them. In its silly way, South Park does the same thing as the film version of 1984. I'm talking about the scene when Winston has a starving rat in a cage tied to his face and someone threatening to open the little door keeping the rat from feasting on his eyeballs. He screeches in terror for them to torture his girlfriend instead of pulling that little door open.
Anyhoo, I imagine we are meant to draw some parallels from the South Park 'F-word' episode to the word 'marriage.' It seems to follow. Everyone is screaming about the institution and how to define the word. Who we allow to commit their lives to each other and who we exclude from getting the legal schwag that comes with joining the marriage club. I wonder how much difference it makes to the day-to-day of an actual marriage. I also wonder, where's the joy in keeping the word 'marriage' and the people excluded from it, locked in a cage, scratching for your eyeballs? It seems the word is eager to evolve. How long do we use it as an instrument of torture?
My friends, and I do literally mean my friends, in the LDS church say that the institution of marriage has been around for 5000 years. Maybe so, but even within the LDS church the meaning has made a great pilgrimage of definition. Many of my friends here in New york, some who've never bothered to learn more than enough to be dangerous, love to point this out and spit about polygamy. It's annoying and makes them look ignorant to me, but I also have to admit they have a point. To take the point further and on a more personal line, I offer the fact that my father is sealed (married) to two women; one who is dead (as he also is now) and one who is not. This is the case for many widows and widowers. My dad was never married to more than one woman at a time, but if there is an afterlife where we are re-united with our loved ones, I surely hope he gets to be united with all of his loved ones. Can you imagine some Sophie's Choice, Nazi officer-like God, gleefully posting a sign above the gates of heaven that reads, "Only one man and one woman may enter here." It's kinda dumb, not to mention a bit mean. Who imagines a heaven like that?
We won't even go into the whole 'freedom of choice' issue. Okay, yes we will. Mormons call this 'free agency' and it's close to the heart of our theology. The very heart of Mormon theology is Charity - pure love; meaning people exist to have joy. Some might argue that it's finding 'eternal life' which is at the heart of Mormon theology and I would answer that the two ideas are the same. The difference between living forever and 'eternal life' is joy. What it is that brings people joy is a good question and up for debate. One absolutely necessary element, Mormons believe, is that people must be free to choose in order to find joy. So I ask: Is it really a choice when the two options are cake or death?
I'd say we can simply no longer afford to enslave people and rob them of true, equal and real choice. I actually admire the LDS church for wanting to defend the institution of marriage as they see it should be. We all have a right to define and defend what we believe is good and true. It's also why I believe the word marriage should come out of the civil arena and be handed over to private institutions to be used as they see fit. The civil part which carries the legal rights and benefits of inheritance and property, should be given to the term 'Civil Unions' (or the term 'Fag' for all I care) and opened to everyone. I believe all consenting adults should get the schwag if they want it.
The irony of all of this, as I'm sure has been pointed out zillions of times in Mormon circles, is that in LDS theology, we believe Satan (the devil) is the one who wanted to save all souls by forcing them to obey. It's the key difference between God's plan of salvation and Satan's plan. Mormons believe that the driving force behind Satan's plan is that he wanted power. Not only did he want power, he wanted all of it. I think if all of this drama actually did play out somewhere and that Satan is a real person and not just part of our own consciousness, then I also think he really wanted to believe he was going to save everyone. But more important for how this applies to us mere mortals is this; I believe this wish to save others by force is a mask. One concealing an un-mastered and unbridled will to rule all life and stave off the fear of dying. This is dark lord Sauron stuff we're talking about. One ring to rule them all. One mask to hide the flesh and blood that will wither and rot.
And one more thing to throw in here: LDS Temples. Temples relate to life and death, love and salvation. I can't speak for all of the reasons temples exist but I can say I've been inside several and have loved being there. One important element of temples, as is true with temples of many other faiths, is the power of ritual and the path to accessing one's own inner sanctuary. For instance, Buddha sat quietly under a Bodhi tree for enlightenment. I bring up Mormon temples because I think they embody beautifully the need in every person to enter and make choices in the inner sanctuaries of his or her own heart. A temple symbolizes this journey. I also believe it is perfectly legitimate for the Mormon church to define who goes into the temples they've built and who does not. What I do not agree with and find absolutely abhorrent is the need to expand those rules into other people's temples. Like invading Poland, robbing other people of the legal right to their own protected sanctuary is violence and has more to do with forcing others to comply with your definition of good and evil than it does with the heart of Mormon theology - that people might have joy.
I have always loved many of the tenets of LDS theology. It is also true that I've had my own demons and Satans and dark lords of conscience and consciousness to reckon with. Watching people around me, those I grew up believing had some access to truth and goodness, act like beasts and Satan, has only complicated issues and sewn a whole plantation worth of anger and resent. Turning into my own heart to see that I too have a darkness to face, has been and still is a difficult but necessary path. It's a path that helps me understand and relate to what seems so cruel and misguided in others. I don't have to like it, but I can at least find a connection where I and my so-called enemy meet and share a similar struggle. I still wonder how much longer we will spit out our own hatred onto others and refuse to face our own dark hearts. How long we will allow that tyranny and darkness of characters like the ‘Rapunzel’s witch’ mother and the “Darth Vader’ father in us to have the persuading voice in our public square. I wonder how long we will allow these basic and understandable desires to run amuck; these wishes which compel us to 'protect' our loved ones and neighbors, possibly even ourselves, right out of the thing that is life itself: possibility, choice, the right to pursue love and joy. How long do we strangle humans into submission for a life we think will make them happy, even if we have to force it on them? I believe if we are to honor our own Constitution, if we are to thrive and uphold the center, the very center of our own values, including agency and charity, we must empower people and protect the boundaries of their own choices. We don't have to agree with our neighbors to love them. The invasion and destruction of this love, I believe, is the true and real threat to society.
Okay, I'm done. The end. Happy camping everyone.