What my Mormon mother taught me about God

I remember when my mother told me to hit someone. A junior high school classmate had adopted the habit of … Continued

I remember when my mother told me to hit someone.

A junior high school classmate had adopted the habit of punching me in the shoulder whenever he found me within arm’s reach. I tried very hard to adopt an ethos I thought conventional Christian culture demanded. I turned the other shoulder, and after several weeks both my shoulders were badly bruised.

I looked to my mother to re-charge my failing faith in traditional Christian ethics. Now, David, you really can be better than this other boy, she would say to my complaint. Jesus would want you to be a peacemaker. And back to school I would go, renewed in my resignation to suffer, silently, for righteousness’ sake.

“Why don’t you punch him back?” was my mother’s question.

It felt like someone had used my head to crack the Liberty Bell.

I can do that?, I thought (my voice having been rung right out of my head). What about Jesus?

My mother taught me not to let even Jesus tell me what to do.

It may not be obvious, but my mother and her best lesson are very old fashioned. Two hundred years ago, America’s political independence left its inherently revolutionary spirit without a cause, and the consequence was a proliferation along the frontier of new religions that—in a very Jesus-y way—deliberately rejected the presumption of the country’s traditional religions to determine how people should think and behave. Not only Shakers and Quakers and Owenites and Oneida-ists, but New Lights, Reformed Baptists, and Camp-Meeting Methodists looked at the way religion in America was done and chose to do it differently, even in the face of public condemnation.

My mother is the heir of the Mormon spirit from that antique era that saw that convention never justifies itself, and that authority is always contingent. The old-time religion my mother instilled in me, the spirituality I still value, is the wherewithal to say to anyone, “You’re not the boss of me.”

Now, in my case, it’s true, this punch-first-and-turn-a-cheek-later-if-necessary philosophy is mostly self-serving and obstructionist. But my mother demonstrates that being obstinately committed to one’s own course of action can make everyone’s world a better place.

Since retiring years ago, my mother has been giving volunteer service at a local elementary school, facing down the squealing, unruly energy of other people’s children for free. This in spite of common sense and everyone’s assurance that the effort of pushing five children into respectable adulthood has bought her a rest. Anyway, she’s got her own grandchildren to spoil.

At the other extreme, she has also has been giving volunteer service at a local elderly care facility, facing down the grim vision of twilight. This in spite of common sense and everyone’s assurance that, at her age, she should be cruising the Caribbean or bungee-jumping, not confronting the spectre of geriatric debilitation on a daily basis. At least get paid for it.

When you think about it, you discover that this last item is characteristic of the very religious attitude she communicated to me years ago. If death bothers you, punch it in the face.

I not only respect this approach to the world, I love it. I see real divinity in the determination to do, whatever the opposition, or not to do, whatever the incentive. Because we surely can’t be our selves, our true and fully realized selves, if we bow to social pressure, follow convenient conventions, and do what we’re told. One of the things that makes God must be that his or her faith resides solely in himself. Or herself.

That’s another of those cheeky ideas of early Mormonism that keeps me Mormon and makes a great Mother’s Day message: there are lots of gods and at least half of them are women.

No doubt. One of them is my mom.

David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons,” alike. Follow him on Twitter: @fatsodoctor.

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  • birchbank

    Yeah, your Mom realized as most do that “turning the other cheek” doesn’t usually work with kids, or seemingly with many adults. Usually we feel we have to stand up for our rights, regardless of what Jesus taught, or we’ll become a doormat for others.

    However, MY Mom taught me that sometimes turning the other cheek, or not retaliating or showing resentment, but rather forgiving your tormentor or exploiter often causes them to feel guilty for doing what they did, and even afraid of bad karma (or the righteous wrath of God) coming back to haunt them. And that many may simply be impressed with our ability to handle whatever they dish out without retaliating, and our even forgiving and forgetting the incident(s). It may cause some to even come to apologize and/or atone for their transgressions.

    Our dog-eat-dog society can make it difficult to survive being a meek doormat, but Jesus taught that the meek shall inherit the earth (maybe in the next world?), but especially the absolute importance of forgiveness.

    After my mother passed away, my older brother first definitely stated he owed me a portion of our mother’s estate (I never heard from my Mom personally about this, and her will was not completed before she passed away). Later he denied this, and claimed she meant for him to have it all as eldest son, and he only made his earlier “offer” to “make me feel better” at the time. (?!?) Right. Doesn’t make a bit of sense.

    But I supposed that as a small-church pastor with a modest income, a family and a daughter to put through college, and sharing in our family cottage expenses and taxes, he probably used up all the inheritance.

    At first I held a grudge against him and could’ve legally asserted myself to try to make him pay me my fair share. But he has been sufferng poor health lately, and my doing so would’ve spoiled our brotherly relations, maybe for good…

    So I resolved to turn the other cheek and forgive him, and now we have the CLOSEST relationship ever.

  • goodnessknowz

    You would do well in the South – and about 150 years ago. I wonder if your Ma told you that African-Americans bear the mark of Cain and so couldn’t be bishops and priests because they were dirty from the sin of Cain. I guess she is making the world better by being a good Mormon and hating gays, too.

    Yeah, you are just right for the South.

  • George Shell

    Really? You are going to criticize someone’s “Ma” on mother’s day with oneline jabs? Is nothing sacred?

    And what is your point? Do you not applaud the LDS Church for changing its policy as to African Americans and the priesthood? I interact with African American LDS Bishops. Is it your intent to denigrate their faith?

    Furthermore, is it really fair to use the rhetoric of hate on a Church that follows the New Testament teachings that homosexual behavior is inconsistent with God’s commandments? I reject the notion that if someone holds a differnt view from you on homosexual behavior that person therefore “hates” homosexuals. It is an emotional issue to begin with. Telling a whole group of people they hate another whole group does not encourage dialogue. Are you helping LDS families with differing views on homosexuality, and especially those with homosexual members, foster communication? You have declared that those who hold to LDS teachings hate certain children, siblings, parents etc. That is unfair and not helpful. Does God hate those who do not keep all of his commandments all of the time? If that is the case, then He hates all of us. That is not God’s view and that is not the LDS view.

  • Kingofkings1

    Mr Mason,
    Your mother sounds to me like an angel – you are mistaken if you think she is God

  • David L Sadler

    @George Shell – Another Mormon telling us what GODs view is.

    Get over yourself and please keep the Mormon God who lives on or near Kolob to yourself.

    This same God that changed his mind about polygamy in 1890 after a little pressure will no doubt change his mind about homosexuality when the Mormons are the only Neanderthals left in the civilised world still discriminating against them.

    You’ll look as foolish then as the majority of Mormons from 1978 looked when he changed his mind about black people.

  • dcdinnell

    You need to look closer. . . like most, you don’t know the difference between “g”od and “G”od. . . it really is clarified numerous times in the Bible. . .

    “…For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him…” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6)

  • dcdinnell

    The same God who was okay with polygamy for his prophets such as Abraham, Jacob, and Mosesin the Bible, unless you have not studied the Bible. . .

    “…And Nathan [Prophet] said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom…” (2 Sam. 12:7-8). In 2 Samuel 12:8, God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, said that if David’s wives and concubines were not enough, He would have given David even more.

  • dcdinnell

    goodnessknowz – – – study some history sometime. . . As for the “curse”, it is just a part of history… the “mark of Cain” or “curse of Ham” came from interpretations of Bible stories and was a commonly accepted concept of the early 16th to the 19th century Christian religions of Europeans and Americans regarding people of black skin – According to historical scholars, early interpretations of the Bible in Syriac Christianity combined the “curse” with the “mark”, and interpreted the curse of Cain as black skin. Some argue that this may have originated from rabbinic texts, which interpreted a passage in the Book of Genesis (“And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell”) as implying that Cain underwent a permanent change in skin color. The explanation that black Africans, as the “sons of Ham”, were cursed, possibly “blackened” by their sins, was advanced only sporadically during the Middle Ages, but became increasingly common during the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. The curse of Cain was used to support a ban on ordaining blacks to most Protestant clergies until the 1960s in both the U.S. and Europe. Look at your Baptist churches – The split between the Northern and Southern Baptist organizations arose over slavery and the education of slaves. At the time of the split, the Southern Baptist group used the curse of Cain as a justification for slavery. Some 19th and 20th century Baptist ministers in the southern United States taught that there were two separate heavens; one for blacks, and one for whites. Many Protestant groups in America had supported the notion that black slavery, oppression, and African colonization was the result of God’s curse on people with black skin or people of African descent through Cain or through the curse of Ham, and some churches practiced racial segregation as late as the 1990s. The Civil Rights movement occurred in the 1960s, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • LDS_Revelations

    @ dcdinnell-
    I’ve always found it interesting that LDS use the Samuel verse to justify plural marriage. As if a single verse in a “as far as it is translated correctly” book is really justification for the practice. Surely LDS can see that this verse can and is interpreted differently by other christians. The LDS interpretation of the verse certainly is a stretch.

    Besides why is it needed when LDS have Section 132?

  • LDS_Revelations

    @ dcdinnell-
    I actually think on the curse and mark of cain that goodnessknowz would agree with you that the idea is man made and has been handed down for hundreds of years. His point I think was more that the LDS Church and more importantly it’s leaders couldn’t tell the difference between the racist traditions of their fathers and actual revelation from a divine source. And before you claim it wasn’t revelation I’ll refer you to the 1951 and 1969 FP statements saying that it was. The ’51 statement directly ties the practice to the Curse of Cain and a pre-mortal life lack of valiance.

    Sure most protestant groups supported slavery and oppression of blacks…but they don’t claim to have Prophets of God that are supplying them with continuing revelation. Those churches are the poster children of what LDS call the great apostasy whereas the LDS Church should be different. When it;s all said and done though it doesn’t appear that it is.

  • duwaynea

    dcdinnell wrote: ” As for the “curse”, it is just a part of history… the “mark of Cain” or “curse of Ham” came from interpretations of Bible stories and was a commonly accepted concept of the early 16th to the 19th century Christian religions….”

    Too bad it took Mormon prophets so long to figure that out. Atheists, humanists, feminists, and intellectuals all got the “revelation” about the false doctrine of the “mark of Cain” decades before the Mormons prophets did; Mormon “prophets, seers and revelators” were the last ones to get the revelation that racism is wrong.

    Oh, I guess that’s not quite right. They were not actually the *last* ones to get the revelation. The KKK still hasn’t gotten the memo. So Mormons have some consolation — their prophets are not as bad as the KKK!

  • mikecq

    I am confused..
    Is she a “heir” or “heiress”?

  • Vanka

    The Mormon Church is such a freakish cult…

  • Vanka

    “there are lots of gods and at least half of them are women.”

    The author would have difficulty backing up such a (cult) claim with canonized scripture – even the plethora of additional “scripture” Joseph Smith foisted on his gullible followers!

    Professors at the Mormon cult’s Brigham Young University have been fired and excommunicated from the Mormon Church for teaching their students to pray to a “Mother in Heaven”.

  • Tornogal

    George Shell wrote “Do you not applaud the LDS Church for changing its policy as to African Americans and the priesthood? I interact with African American LDS Bishops. Is it your intent to denigrate their faith? ”

    So seriously, we should “APPLAUD” the LDS church for in 1978 (!!) finally allowing Blacks full participation?

    And yes, indeed, I will denigrate the faith of anyone who follows a church that can for over a century cast Blacks as inferior, suddenly “get religion” and cast that teaching aside, and then say blithely “We don’t really know why we did that in the first place.”

    The LDS church claims to be the ONLY correct church on Earth. It claims to have been led continuously since its inception to be led by God’s one true prophet on Earth. That is impossible to accept when during that time it said Blacks were less than Whites.

    The Mormon church is a hoax led by hucksters.

  • George Shell

    @David L Sadler

    “Get over yourself”; “keep the Mormon God who lives on or near Kolob to yourself”; “When Mormons are the only Neaderthals left”; “You’ll look as foolish then”

    I had naively hoped readers of the Washington Post might actually have more to say than name calling. Is the notion that God does not hate his children who fail to keep all of his commandments all of the time a “Mormon God” position only? Of course not. I suspect most religions believe in a God who does not hate those who do not live up to all of his standards. Do you have a different view of God on that point? It is a very narrow world view to say that a religious group who respects God’s commandments hates everyone who does not live by them. That type of rhetoric is not real dialogue. It is another form of name calling.

    You criticize the shifts on polygamy and priesthood restrictions as the “Mormon God” changing his mind, implying that major shifts in the Church mean that it is uninspired. During his ministry, Christ told his apostles not to teach Gentiles the gospel. The good news was only to go to the Jews. Only after Christ’s ascension, when Peter was leading the Church on earth, did Peter receive a revelation to take the gospel to the Gentiles. At the same time, he entertained Gentiles interested in the gospel (social pressure?). The apostles then obeyed and taught the Gentiles. That was a major shift in the Church that had to contend with sometimes difficult questions of what if any Jewish practices applied to Gentile converts. It was not a smooth transition. Did God change his mind about the Gentiles? Is God a respecter of persons for delaying bringing his gospel to the Gentiles? Was Christ’s Church foolish? Was Peter a Neaderthal?

  • whatwereyouthinking

    Why do you say that? It’s in the Bible. It’s in the Catechism of the Catholic Church too. C.S. Lewis wrote about godhood for men and women. You should pay better attention.

    I think it is a pretty neat feature of LDS theology that there is a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. Don’t you think so? I mean, it demonstrates the co-equality of men and women in a way not recognized in other Christian belief. No one ever got fired for holding that belief, so you’re misinformed.

  • whatwereyouthinking

    Well, and look at the eighth chapter of Romans. The ignorati ought to be asked to explain what exactly it means to be an heir with Christ. But, look, the Catechism of the Catholic Church gets it right out of the Bible when it says (Art. 460), Article 460: The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” [Footnotes omitted]

    I just wish that people who don’t understand Christian theology would not purport to lecture about it to people who do.

  • Vanka

    You have got to be kidding! Like so many Mormons (“LDS”), you tell lies and refuse to back it up. You say “it is in the Bible” – where? Where in the bible does it say there is even ONE legitimate female god? Any mentions of gods in the Bible, other than the One God, are references to FALSE gods! Try putting down the Ensign long enough to actually read something NOT written by one of your cult leaders.

    And CS Lewis was not a Mormon. Why do you refer to him? He was also NOT a Priest in any Church, and his writings are not “scripture” (the word of god).

    “Co-equality of men and women”?? Seriously? Women in the Mormon Church have historically been treated as chattel, and as breeding mares, to be impregnated so that men could achieve “exaltation” by “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19). Even today, women are barely second class citizens in the Mormon cult – just a few weeks ago, for the first time in over 180 years, a woman was permitted to give a prayer in Mormon “General Conference”!

    Equality? Hogwash! The Mormon cult has always been a patriarchal, male-dominated, sexist organization. Clearly, you haven’t a clue what you are talking about.

  • LaVerl

    For those of you wondering about a Bible reference to a female God, just carefully read Genesis1:27 where it says, “So God created man in his own image,in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
    Note that God and man are both referred to with a male pronoun, yet at the end of the verse, the male pronoun is defined as both male and female. If man is both male and female and is in the image of God, then God must also be male and female.

  • ThomasBaum

    God-Incarnate was a Male but God is neither a Male, a Female nor an It but is a Being of Love and that is the Image that we are made it.

    Pronouns can come in handy but there is not a pronoun in English that is accurate to use in referring to God and I would say that there most likely is not an accurate pronoun in any language to use in reference to God.

  • TimothyBerman

    Vanka is flat out wrong and here is why. True Biblical Scholarship lends credence to the reality that Ancient Hebrews were more Henotheistic/Polytheistic in the worship of El-Elynon. This is congruent with the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near Eastern Religious philosophy. Such scholarship research and work that has been done is well documented in various Journals, Books, et al. The worship of YHWH and HIS ASORETH is also well documented in Ancient Israelite Religious belief system.

    Vanka also fails to understand the connections Christ made with Parables in relation to Ancient Jewish Wedding Ceremony and the Kingdom of Heaven. Revelation 3:21 is a very devestating passage to the modern Christian thought that we become “Angels” forever worshiping God because, if that, were so, then why and how could we be Heirs and Joint Heirs with Christ and seated upon the Throne With Christ as Christ is seated on the Throne with his Father? The Husband and Bride, in Ancient Jewish Wedding Ceremony become Kings and Priests, Queens and Priestesses. Christ prepares for those who become Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestess a place because, Christ himself said “In my Father’s House, there are many mansions”. Now, if Vanka would like to debate this scholarly information and provide scholarly refutation to the evidence that loudly denies his cushy little evangelical perception, then I am all for it. To date, no evangelical Anti-Mormon Critic has ever taken up this challenge.