Guest Post: A Gateway Drug to Becoming a “Bad Mormon”

Guest Post by Anonymous. Anonymous is a young professional living and working in New York City just doing their best.

“Once I do this, there’s no going back,” I thought to myself as I looked at the gummy candy in my hand, indistinguishable from a Sour Patch watermelon but for one key (and totally legal in New York City, by the way) ingredient. But then, a second thought occurred to me almost as quickly: There was no going back anyway. That’s how time works,  dummy.

Earlier that day, I’d committed to the very mild rebellion that had been percolating in my mind for months by actually procuring a small sample pack of gummies from a local dispensary. Still, I was telling myself that if I did actually follow through, it would probably be a one-time thing just to satiate a curiosity I’d always had but never  imagined I’d actually act on.

I’m sure most people don’t need to have major philosophical conversations with themselves before trying something that science has confirmed is relatively harmless (and, once again, totally legal) once. But most people also aren’t members of – and trying to remain in – what is referred to as a “high demand religion.”

On the one hand, the “high demand” of putting my time and talents to good use within and amongst the church community has been really beneficial throughout my life. I’ve learned a great work ethic, forged important relationships, and generally formed a practice of turning outward with love and service. On the other hand, the somewhat stricter code of conduct leads to a lot of black-and-white, in-or-out frames of reference and cultural norms. Orthodox Mormons really like to say that there is no such thing as “cafeteria Mormonism” where you get to pick and choose which commandments you will obey. Knowingly and purposely breaking a commandment would be a mistake.

So the fact that I had arrived at the point of not only considering testing out a substance that is simply against the Church’s strict health code (and more explicitly warned against by modern leaders), but having it in my hand ready to consume, was a big deal. Honestly, I had kind of surprised myself, a life-long “good girl.” My interests and curiosities fit pretty comfortably within the confines of the rules, so rebellion never held much allure for me. I have always viewed my ability to win Never Have I Ever against anyone with pride.

While my obedience to the tenets of my religion has never been fear-based for me, the emphasis on “thou shalt”s and “thou shalt not”s in a high demand religion did shape my way of thinking and how I approach decision-making. Repentance, or getting back on the right track after making mistakes, sounds like a lot more work than just not doing something when you’re told not to do something. There had to be a reason we’re encouraged to avoid doing these things, right? Not to mention, spiritual leaders throughout my life have preached that the blessings of obedience would be clarity and peace of mind. Clearly, purposeful disobedience to God would never prove to be worth it.

Like most aspects of my privileged worldview, this perspective was ripe for a remix when the pandemic arrived and upended life as we knew it. I’m sure I don’t need to recount every global upheaval and personal trauma of the past two years to paint the picture of just how unclear and unpeaceful it was, regardless of my adherence to the rules. Global emergencies undeterred by thoughts and prayers, the stark inequalities they made apparent, and the disappointing silence from Church leaders on these pressing issues sparked a faith transition for me – not out of Mormonism, but within it.

Suddenly I was seeing how keeping myself safe within a bubble of unquestioning obedience had kept my spiritual and intellectual muscles from fully maturing, leaving me unprepared to face the harsh realities that quickly piled up in 2020. I was hungry to live more intentionally and learn by experience rather than second-hand stories. I felt myself shifting from what Richard Rohr calls “first half of life” spirituality – that of a transactional, “one rule obeyed equals one blessing received” relationship to the Divine – to “second half of life” spirituality, marked by a greater focus on personal agency and transformation.

With all of this stewing in my mind for months, I sat there with the forbidden gummy. I wasn’t looking to go out and break every rule I’d ever been taught – I was just trying to follow my curiosities and not be held back by clinging too tightly to my “good girl” title. I had arrived at this moment not by convincing myself to abandon my principles or rationalize something I felt was wrong, but by carefully considering what I wanted and how to do it while staying aligned to my values.

So I did it. I ate the gummy. And I had a pretty uneventful experience, to be honest. I guess a lifetime of being told to avoid doing something like this at all costs had built up an expectation that it would be an incredibly impactful experience, for better or worse. But it was just…fine. Shrug-worthy, even. The fact that it was almost a non-event opened my eyes to the power I had let the fear of being wrong, of not living up to every standard set for me, have over my life.

Maybe in the future, I’ll look back on it as a mistake. It’s now a finger I get to put down in Never Have I Ever, at least. But it didn’t change my beliefs or the way I show up for my church community. It didn’t weaken the relationship I feel that I’ve cultivated with the divine. Maybe my mistake all along was thinking in absolutes. In thinking mistakes were something to be feared and avoided rather than utilized for growth. And maybe that will make me a “bad Mormon” in the eyes of some members of my church. But I’m starting to see that my biggest mistake has been living within the approval of others, even spiritual leaders I turn to for advice. Rules and guidelines definitely have their place, and I’m not looking to go taste every “forbidden fruit” just to say I did, but maybe it’s time I start bending and breaking some rules with intentionality to learn what practices and boundaries work best for me, regardless of what others think.

But also, nobody tell my mom.

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7 Responses

  1. Simply brilliant.
    I’m kind of in a similar position myself, though I never considered myself one of the “good” mormons. I’ve not tried this route yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened this year. No, my “sin” of choice has been polyamory.
    It’s wierd the little things we consider to be “borderline”

  2. nicolesbitani says:

    You are such a talented writer, and I’m grateful you shared your story. I loved this: “The fact that it was almost a non-event opened my eyes to the power I had
    let the fear of being wrong, of not living up to every standard set for me, have over my life.” I love your example of opening your eyes to the power fear held over you and how transformative that can be.

  3. Cory says:

    For what it’s worth, James E. Talmadge (yeah, that one) experimented when he was in college. He turned out all right.

  4. lws329 says:

    Recently we to eat at a restaurant that served the whole meal, wine included, for a flat rate. It was for my adult son’s birthday and he isn’t active. I decided to taste it. This was a big decision for me. I just felt like why should it be such a big deal? It was awful.

    But when I mentioned it to my teenage son later his eyes got all big like I had done something horrible. He asked why I did it. I said, I just wanted to know what it tastes like and it was awful. He got over it.

  5. Oh the “don’t tell my mom” resonates so deeply with me. I fond myself smiling, giggling, knowing exactly how you felt here and there. Thank you for writing this.

  6. Beth Somerton Young says:

    Your insights about the Obedience for the Sake of Obedience are so eloquently expressed here. I love and share this insight about your journey. (I won’t tell your Mom, because…Moms.)

  7. Janey says:

    “shrug-worthy.” That’s my new favorite adjective.

    I tried wine not too long ago, and had the same reaction as lws329. The stuff tastes awful. It’s bitter and carbonated. It also gave me an instant headache. Bleh.

    My “Gateway drug” was buying a tank top. I wore a tank top (no garments), and I didn’t feel wicked. It was just a lot more comfortable in the heat.

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