This is my fifth letter to Anonymous. For those who may not have read the previous posts, these letters are directed toward an individual who posted the following comment a few days ago with respect to a post on my blog (the gist of the comment being that that I should go back into the closet because 20 years of “sowing wild oats” was not worth giving up “exaltation”):
“Sincere question for you here … Assuming you're 45, and will live to be 76, you're approximately 60% of the way through your life. Up to this point, you've been a faithful member of the Church, paid your tithing, etc. So, you've only got 40% of life to go and if you can just keep on the path for that last stretch, you'll very likely receive exaltation and be together with your family, as the LDS Church teaches. On the other hand, if you choose to live a homosexual lifestyle, you've got, on average, 31 years (assuming you're 45) left. Keeping in mind that after 65 you're pretty much "old" (no offense intended) which brings the "wild oats" years down to roughly 20. Are those 20 years worth it … [i.e.,] worth what you're giving up?”
This comment struck me as representing what is unfortunately common thinking among most members of the LDS Church with respect to being gay. So, even though “Anonymous” subsequently identified himself as “Bryan,” I have continued to address these letters to the many anonymous Mormons whom I believe hold beliefs similar to those underlying Bryan’s comments.
Today’s letter addresses the belief, reflected in Bryan’s original comment, that “if I can just keep on the path [despite my gay nature], I’ll receive exaltation and be together with my family.” In Mormon-speak, this is about “enduring to the end.”
Unlike previous letters that addressed implicit premises underlying your original comment, today’s letter addresses an explicit statement you made: “[I]f you can just keep on the path [for the rest of your life] you'll very likely receive exaltation and be together with your family, as the LDS Church teaches.”
This statement, perhaps more than any other aspect of your original comment, generated the most comments from other readers. I’d like to quote from several of these comments.
“Dad’s Primal Scream” wrote: “What you describe is essentially a philosophical concept called ‘Pascal’s Wager’. You are basically saying, ‘Why not bet on eternity since there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain?’
“But the problem is that there is a lot to lose when you look at the opportunity costs of sticking with a life path that is so dramatically wrong. [If I had stuck to the path I was formerly on] I would be giving up the chance to find and spend eternity with someone I truly loved – a man.
“The second problem with Pascal’s Wager is that it sets up a false dichotomy. The truth is that there are more than two choices here between a “righteous”, straight, LDS, married life on the one hand and a decadent “lifestyle choice” with a man on the other hand.
“These aren’t life’s only two options for us, and sticking with the straight LDS married life automatically eliminates a wide array of positive, life affirming choices for me and my family that in the long run are BETTER (both now and in eternity).”
A False Dichotomy
It is at this point that I think it would be useful to revisit some of the premises I’ve previously written about. It seems clear to me your statement, quoted above, is based on the following premises: (i) one’s sexuality is a choice; (ii) living one’s sexuality is a choice; (iii) being gay is only about same-sex attraction; and (iv) ultimately, the “gay lifestyle” is only about sex.
After you have accepted these premises and taken the logical steps implied by them, you arrive at a point where you have, in Dad’s words, set up a false dichotomy: for you, the choice is between, on the one hand, “keeping on the path” that is supposed to lead to eternal bliss, and, on the other hand, living a life of depraved debauchery with men.
If, however, one takes a different logical path, one arrives at a different location: if one accepts that one’s sexuality is innate and not a choice; if one accepts that living one’s sexuality is a natural and God-given expression of self; if one accepts that being gay is not only about same-sex attraction; and, if one accepts that being gay is about a living a whole gamut of natural human emotions, including but not limited to sex – if one accepts all of these premises, one ends up at a very different place than you did, a place described by “Dad” where a variety of options and life-affirming choices are available.
The Mormon Pascal’s Wager: A False Paradigm
“Dad” referred to the so-called “Pascal’s Wager,” which was a philosophical suggestion by French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal that, even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.
In Mormon terms, this wager could be expressed this way: Keep the commandments, follow the path (er, I mean prophet), because if you do, you have everything to gain in the next life. Many members of the Church would also add to this core principle the kicker, “and the quality of your life will be better here in mortality as a result of living the teachings of the Church.”
This add-on might be fine for many people, but there are many for whom living the teachings of the Church does not bring fulfillment and happiness. This is what “Dad” was referring to when he wrote about “the opportunity costs of sticking with a life path that is so dramatically wrong.”
For most gay members of the Church, living the teachings of the Church with respect to their sexuality and identity does not bring happiness or add to the quality of life. Just the opposite. However, accepting one’s sexuality, despite the teachings of the Church, can lead to happiness in this life, as was described by Clive, one of the commenters on last weeks’ post.
“I believe that when the Book of Mormon says that men are that they might have joy, it is speaking truth, both for this life as well as for eternity. As a gay man once married to a wonderful straight woman, raising tremendous children, serving in a variety of Church leadership positions, I never understood what joy was. I had happy moments, but in my trial never felt the joy that the Gospel is intended to bring.
“Since divorcing and actually being true to who I am, however, I have amazingly experienced a fullness of joy EVERY day--joy so profound it often causes me to tremble with gratitude for a Father who loves me for who and what I am and is willing to share His Spirit with me in a profound and immutable way.
“If wickedness never was happiness, I have to take the Lord at his word. That means that if what I am doing is wicked, I shouldn't be happy. At the same time, if marriage to a woman brought such unhappiness that I was willing to inflict tremendous pain and suffering on the people I love most--my former wife and children--would it be pleasing in the sight of God?
“It is so easy to live in a world constructed of cultural norms that is in reality antithetical to the teachings of the Gospel of Christ. Because it is easy, too many members of the Church choose to live in such a world of blacks and whites rather than a world of sunshine and rainbows as Heavenly Father intended. I'm grateful that God led me into a world of color and with it, a world of boundless joy.”
Betting On the Come
Pascal’s Wager might be more crassly termed, “betting on the come” - a gambling expression which means you don't have what you want or need right now, but you are betting or hoping you will have what you want or need when the time comes. (Answers.com)
The implication of Anonymous’ comment is that I should forego living who I truly am and continue to live whom I’m not, in order to conform to what the Church teaches will bring me happiness in the eternities, albeit deep unhappiness in this life (been there, done that, know all about it).
This belief was addressed by several of the commenters to my original post last week. For example, Wayne wrote: “The idea of enduring to the end is not about holding one’s breathe for 76 years and then ‘poof’ we are exalted. The same spirit that possesses our bodies in this life is the same one we take into the next. I can “be living all the commandments” and I won’t have any more or less of a guaranty of being exalted than someone “living a gay lifestyle”. I know that might come across like rationalization or justification and “how dare I”, but I feel there is so much more to the equation of life than we can pretend to know. But I do believe that being happy is the object of this existence. I know so many members of the church that are miserable and unhappy. Those people aren’t suddenly going to be happy when they die. If we don’t learn how to be happy in this life we will not be instantly happy in the next.”
Another commenter, Pablo, wrote: “Assuming there is a heavenly book of life written for each one of us, it is not a balance sheet being kept by some cherubic bookie. I understand very well the notion of ‘enduring to the end,’ which seems to be the commenter’s primary point. For me, there is much more meaning and joy in life to find that doesn’t have a lot to do with the kind of cold numeric calculation present in that comment.”
What this ultimately boils down to is foregoing having happiness in this life, betting that happiness will somehow come to me in the next life. But, as Jeff in Colorado wrote, “What if I arrive at my personal judgment day and, sitting there with my Savior and my Heavenly Father, I learn that my trial was NOT to suppress my orientation, but to embrace it and to help others to also learn to love, embrace, and accept [theirs]? What if Invictus had ignored those promptings during last October's conference and, at the ripe old age of 76, passed away - only to find out that he failed to heed the call of the Spirit to climb his Moriah?”
I have already experienced the pain of “what if” in this life. Turning Pascal’s Wager around, and betting on a different kind of come, I am not willing to pass out of this life – the only one I’ll ever have – only to turn around and say, with respect to my whole life (!), “What if …” No! I am here to fill the measure of my creation. I was born gay, I have chosen to finally love and embrace that, and I’m betting on what I know in my own heart. I am climbing Moriah.
For purposes of reflection, I am including the following video, featuring a performance by Mary Fahl of “Going Home.” I have loved this song for years, but it has taken on an entirely new meaning within recent months.
And, on this Saint Patrick’s Day, and in honor of my Celtic heritage – both Irish and Scottish, I include another “Going Home” - based on Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor 'From The New World', Op. 95 - II. Largo – that conveys much the same sentiments as Fahl’s song: