Mount Pleasant Ward Sucks, So I Quit: And Expanding Remnants Of A Serial Narcissist
By David Metcalfe
June 11, 2019
The Cyclical, Self-Destructive Nature Of This Blog
A friend recently brought up the point that some of my social problems, by talking about them in this blog, could actually be the source of many of the social problems that I end up talking about in further blogs. Basically, let’s say I have dating problems, so then I write something like “An Exploration of Self, Secular Society, and Sexual Ethics in the Tinder Lothario” (one of my best written articles, by the way), where I talk about going on dozens of dates with Tinder girls and analyzing our interactions. In my mind, that’s an educational, interesting, and perhaps even exceptional endeavour to undertake and write about in the way I do.
But let’s say some LDS girl reads that, and thinks, “This guy is kind of smart, I guess, but really insane. I would never want to go on a date with him- what if he writes about me in his next blog? And is he going to excessively analyze everything I say and do like he does with everyone in his blog?”.
Then, as a result of writing about the initial problems with dating, I actually deter prospective dates that have the potential to alleviate the problem. So then, I end up writing something like “The Cost Of Cuddling”, about my interest in hiring a platonic prostitute. Once again, I think this is a really interesting way to teach people about the value of social communities in providing marriage partners. But some LDS girl reads that and only thinks I’m more insane than she did previously.
I think it’s an interesting theory, but not worth serious consideration for three main reasons: 1) The blog is just an extension of my authentic self, and anyone who doesn’t accept what I write doesn’t accept me as a person, 2) It wouldn’t change the way or content of what I write- it has to be whatever I feel inspired to write about, in exactly the way I want to do it, 3) There’s no real or substantial evidence that the blog is causing this in any major degree anyway.
Some General LDS Problems
But cyclical destruction, if it does happen, is something I would readily accept with the people at Mount Pleasant Ward. You might say, “But David, you complain about every social group you enter into, what’s new about this one?” And the answer is, “not much”. And that’s precisely the problem: I really thought I had found something special in the LDS church. The people seemed so moral, so genuine, wanting more out of life, so discontent with what the secular culture had to offer, so passionate about what they had discovered in a relationship with Jesus in how it affected their life and the way they thought about things. That’s how they are on the surface, and for an investigator, that’s all you really have. It’s when you’re a member, and you live amongst the people for a time, that you begin to see depth, or in the case of the LDS people, a lack thereof. I think that’s a large part of the over 50% drop out rate one year after conversion.
What you’ll find primarily in the LDS church is not people pursuing a relationship with Jesus as an end to itself, but as a means of personal happiness. And this personal happiness is achieved through a high paying job, marriage, a $400,000 house, two $30,000 cars, children, and the “holy grail” of church membership: social status. LDS people love their perfectly crafted Facebook posts, their vacations, their romantic relationships, their career achievements, etc. But try discussing global poverty or the martyrdom of the disciples or something Jesus said that is counter to their goal of personal happiness (i.e. most of what Jesus said), and you will fall on deaf ears.
We see this play out in many ways: marriages get 10x more attendees and Facebook “likes” as baptisms, romantic relationships are chosen based on looks, money, and social status, members will chastise you for not wearing “appropriate church attire” but not even ask whether you love Jesus and want to serve him, people will tithe exactly 10% of their income and feel they are giving sufficiently, regardless of their excess, and the list goes on.
What I often say is that if you want to be a Christian for two years, be a Mormon. If you want to be a Christian for life, be a Jehovah’s Witness. If you want to go back and forth at your own discretion, be a Catholic or Evangelical.
I see Christians among the missionaries- proclaiming the gospel, serving others, denying pleasures, being separate from the world- but it gets much harder to find Christians among the rest of the members. Their religion is full of “Sunday truths” to be proclaimed at church and left there, traded in for the “American dream” during the week; proclaiming to follow a saviour who lived humbly and mentioned the poor and downtrodden constantly, while working 12 hour days to make more money for their personal endeavours, and thinking themselves “righteous” for not having consumed coffee, and wearing their $500 suit and tie to church (Jesus would rather you spend $500 on a suit than to feed the poor, right? Yeah, that’s the impression one would get from reading the gospels).
Some Personal Problems I Have With The LDS Church
It seemed like the LDS church was a place where no one was ever lonely. The young, single adults (YSA) shared houses, had many activities, got married at a much younger than average age, and had much higher than average Facebook friends (about twice as high as my non-LDS friends). For me personally, I enjoyed the interest the missionaries and members seemed to take in my philosophical musings, humour, and lifestyle. I enjoyed telling them about why a career doesn’t have to be the thing you get paid for, why a simple life- away from the pursuit of amassing physical possessions- can be stress free and overall happier, and various ideas about who Jesus is and what his mission was on earth.
For some reason, I had the right combination of narcissism and naivety to think that this was the life I would be entreated to if I joined the church. I still remember the first time an LDS person told me they didn’t want to hang out. It was strange, and little did I know that it was to become the majority of my social interactions with the LDS people over the next year. Little did I know that all the good looking LDS girls constantly telling me, “you’re so awesome!” said that to every investigator, and when I became a member, turned into “you’re an awesome friend…who I never want to hang out with, but maybe say ‘hi’ to if we happen to see each other at church.”
I didn’t think inceldom existed in the LDS church. I thought the desperate and pathetic inability to get a spouse was a product of the social dysfunction inherent in secular society, and would be cured by good Christian community. It isn’t. In fact, it’s worse, because marriage is so highly venerated both spiritually and socially, that not getting married actually becomes that much worse. In addition, I thought the shallowness of secular dating culture would be replaced by a depth, where prospective dating partners got to know each other’s character and devotion to Jesus, and made a rational decision as to whether a marriage would be good to pursue. But that doesn’t happen. Many of the most devoted and moral people are left without spouses (it’s very common for good quality people to have to leave the YSA without having been married). Marriages happen as a result of an unexplained “feeling” they seemed to mutually arrive at. For people who don’t get to be a recipient of this ambiguous “feeling”, you can prepare to be single for life.
LDS girls, I’m told, want consistency, safety, and social status from their prospective husband. These are things that I don’t have, and certainly don’t wish to acquire. To me, consistency is boredom, safety is limitation, and social status is slavery to public opinion. I don’t have what the LDS girls want, and I’m not going to get it, so my best chance at getting married is to find some girl who is very different than other girls in that way, who I also happen to like. My odds are very low, and long-term inceldom in the LDS church is too harsh a risk for my extended engagement in that regard.
And more importantly, the pre-occupation of socialization keeps me from the actual intent of church itself: to facilitate the development of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. When that begins to fail, it appears the church is no longer of social or spiritual use to me.
Proposed Solutions and Their Failings
To summarize, my essential problems with the LDS church are not the beliefs themselves so much as the people who believe them. I find them void of good morality, an authentic desire for relationship with Jesus, and full, open minds to really consider important questions of life. Socially, I think I will find very few friends and am unlikely to find a marriage partner.
These problems are not entirely uncommon, and many people leave the church as a result. But, in fact, there are a great many church members who have remained faithful in spite of them. There are proposed solutions commonly offered by church leaders and members that seem to work for some people. I would like to address why those do not work for me.
1) You have met some wonderful people and made good relationships with them, even if the church as a whole isn’t that great.
That’s true. I am really thankful to have met some of the people I have. But while those individual friendships are great, I can find good individuals anywhere. I criticize secular and evangelical culture, but certain individuals from there are my favourite people. But a few individuals doesn’t make a church- it makes friends. A church is a group of all kinds of people who believe the same thing and help each other along in that belief. If I could gather all of my LDS friends from different parts of US and Canada to one building, perhaps that would be a church I could benefit from. But that’s not going to happen.
2) Don’t judge the church by its members- it’s your personal relationship with Jesus that matters, and the church is a necessary part of that, so just make the best of it.
If it’s my personal relationship with Jesus that matters, and I feel the church is actually reducing my ability to fulfill that, then we are at an impasse. And yes, I will judge the church, at least in part, by its members. Like Jesus says in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Heavenly Father.” I don’t see that light shining- at least not anymore than I see it anywhere else- so it’s hard to see what would compel me to a church like that.
3) Consider what you can do to make things better, rather than expecting everyone else to just make things better for you.
It’s too impossible a challenge for me to change what’s so set in a culture, and with the kinds of people who are content in it. What am I going to do, say that people shouldn’t own cars worth more than $10,000, and donate the rest of what they would’ve spent to the poor? No one is going to listen to me. It doesn’t matter how good my reasoning, moral appeals or scriptural evidence might be. The church’s authority rests in a set structure. If the prophet, or even the bishop, said that, some people would listen. But, of course, they don’t say that, because just like the church members, the church leaders also do not care about things like self-denial and helping the poor (things that seem central to Jesus’ teachings). In addition, I’m not looking to be the guy who comes in and changes the church. I’m looking to join and benefit from an existing organization.
I’m sure there are unlimited reasons people could have for why someone should stay in the church when facing these sorts of problems, but those are all I care to address for the time being.
Where Does That Leave Me?
I want to take a moment to talk about three of my all time favourite people and the effect they’ve had on me: Thomas Paine (the American Revolutionary), Henry David Thoreau (the writer and naturalist), and Bertrand Russell (the British philosopher and human rights activist).
My Mind Is My Church
In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote “Common Sense”, a pamphlet which is the all time most widely distributed book in American history (second only to the Bible), in which he argued for American independence from England, from the perspective of an individual’s natural right to choose their own government. He seemed very Christian at the time, but in later years, became more critical of Christianity because of what he saw as terrible ideas coming out of many churches. In the “Age Of Reason” he writes,
“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.”
I resonate a lot with this quote, because I see the efficacy of an individual’s reason in attaining truth for himself. We can take our knowledge from books, intelligent people, and our personal experience, and apply logic to it in deriving narratives on the nature of the world, and bring beliefs out of that.
I myself, much like Thomas Paine, am too misanthropic and critical to do well in social communities for any length of time (Paine went from the most beloved man in America in the 1770s to the most hated by the 1800s- with only 6 people in attendance at his funeral). But that doesn’t mean I can’t have beliefs that are similar to the ones churches have. I believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people. I believe that Jesus’ commandment to “love thy neighbour as yourself” was and is fundamental and revolutionary to the way humans should act toward each other. I have a testimony of the way the LDS church has helped me understand moral living and taught me some important truths about the gospel.
So, I would echo Thomas Paine in saying that I’m not interested in having a church dictate my beliefs for me, but rather that, “my own mind is my own church.”
The Drumbeat I Hear
In 1845, Henry David Thoreau was fed up with political and social life, so he went out by himself in the woods for two years, by the- now famous- “Walden Pond”. He wrote his magnum opus, “Walden”, in which he discusses the nature of the individual as being free, independent, moral, and thoughtful. His most famous quote is,
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”
This idea, to live freely and get the most out of life, is fundamental to the kind of existence I want to have. And just like Thoreau, I love the idea of confronting life in a unique way and writing about it to get at a greater kind of truth than what some generic textbook could say.
But the quote I especially want to draw from is this one here:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”
I definitely hear a different drummer than most people. I don’t hear the beat of monetary gain, conformity, simplicity, dogma adherence, or any of the other things that seem to rule the lives of common people. I hear freedom, authenticity, personal growth, intellectual advancement, and universal empathy.
Love, Knowledge, Empathy
Bertrand Russell won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1950 for his contributions to philosophy and human rights. He was described as a “liberal, pacifist, and socialist, but none in a profound sense.” In 1945 he published what is likely the greatest history on philosophy ever written, “A History Of Western Philosophy”, where he goes through, in great detail, the arguments of every great philosopher and critiques them. One thing he said, which is something I quote all the time- because I just love it- is:
“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”
I read this over a year ago for the first time, and it just blew my mind. I thought about it for a long time and gradually connected with it more and more. In every meaningful moment I’ve ever experienced in my life, it’s been one of these three things: love, knowledge, or empathy. The love I’ve felt for friends and family, of course, but also the desire for a God to love me, has guided the majority of my decisions and constantly occupied my mind. The fascination and passion I feel when reading books or experiencing new ideas gives me an unequalled zest for life. The empathy I feel for the poor and disadvantaged has not only guided my intellectual studies in politics and economics but also my heart as I try to become the kind of person who cares about all people.
If He’s So Smart, How Come He’s Dead?
In season 11, episode 3 of “The Simpsons”, Homer is a chaperone for the school’s field trip to the newspaper factory. The tour guide mentions the paper’s founder, Johnny Newspaperseed, and Homer responds, “If he’s so smart, how come he’s dead?”. The tour guide stares at him with a blank expression and continues the tour.
But I think, in a way, Homer has a good point. Thomas Paine, Henry David Thoreau, and Bertrand Russell are all excellent people, and some of the most intelligent philosophers that have ever existed. They’ve solved just about everything a human can know about human nature, the universe, morality, etc. But, they all died. What distinguishes Jesus from all other great philosophers is that, if the gospels are true in their account, Jesus conquered death, and gives us the opportunity to also conquer death and find new, everlasting life.
The process by which one comes to believe that Jesus has, in fact, conquered death, is a varied one. Some people feel it so strongly in their heart that they can’t deny it, kind of like falling in love or seeing your new born child for the first time. Other people study the history of it, and try to figure out whether the gospels are legitimate as historical documents and testify of a historical reality. Other people wonder how the vastness of the universe could exist in such complexity, and reason that a God must have created it, and wonder at how a God so powerful and massive could care about humanity, and find that question answered by the narrative of a God coming down through the person of Jesus.
Out of the billions of people who have believed it throughout history and in the current day, they have all felt, in some degree, his presence in their life, and hope that his promise- that they will not die but have eternal life- will be fulfilled. I feel that promise in my heart, and while my limited brain may not be able to comprehend it in its fullness, and my corporal nature keeps me from the fullness of its practical application, I want to try my best.
For all the reading and thinking I do, I don’t have many answers. But I do have things I believe, things I feel, and things I hope for. I want to be free, authentic, passionate, intelligent, and moral. I want to leave the world a better place than I entered it. I want to extend my intellectual faculties as far as they can go in solving a piece of a massive and confusing world. I want to give and receive love in relationships with people, and a God, I care about.
The LDS church, at least what I’m given at Mount Pleasant Ward, is not an effective vehicle for me to do that. I think it is better for me to be a transient hermit, who goes around from place to place finding certain individuals whom I like and want to engage with. My mind is not made to fit inside a church.
But, who knows, perhaps I will show up at LDS events from time to time. I do wonder, if perhaps I was at a place like BYU-Idaho, if I would be a much more faithful church member, as perhaps the social community there would be more conducive to the goals I have and the kind of person I want to be.
I will come back to the LDS church if I feel compelled to do so, whether it’s by the Holy Spirit or by people there who create a place that I think is worth being a part of. But for the time being, I think it is best to just live my life as inspiration hits me, and make the most out of the opportunities I get. And hopefully, in my social interactions, I can aspire somewhere towards Mother Theresa’s goal, to “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”