Friday, May 16, 2008

Personal History part 2: Early chilhood

See the entire "personal history" series of posts:
  • Part 1 - Who I am now. why I'm an atheist, a skeptic, and a progressive liberal, and why I think that's a good thing.
  • Part 2 - I grew up in a Mormon family and community, but my parents always encouraged critical thinking.
  • Part 3 - As I became a teenager, I began having doubts about religion and the supernatural and began to reconcile that with a scientific viewpoint that increasingly edged out religion.
  • Part 4 - "Agnostic, leaning toward atheism"

As mentioned in my last post, I am an atheist and a skeptic (two categories that go hand-in-hand for me). To varying degrees throughout my life, that was not so.

The next couple of posts will relate my religious history, including that of my family.

Family History
First a bit of family background.

I don't know much about my dad's parents prior to their divorce, as this happened LONG before I came along. From what I gather, though, it had something to with my grandfather's extra-marital relationship with the woman I knew as "Grandma Orlob." By the time I was in the picture, my father's father had remarried and lived (outwardly, anyway) a fairly non-religious life. I couldn't even tell you if he identified as LDS or not.

My father's mother, on the other hand, had remarried and continued to be be an incredibly devout - I might even say fundamentalist - Mormon (not like the FLDS people, just an incredibly strict reading and practice of "conventional" Mormon doctrine). This is the family in which my father and his sisters were raised, and indeed this side of the family (save my father) is quite devoutly religious today.

My mother's family story is a little more complicated. She was born to a devout Mormon couple. However, my biological grandmother died in childbirth with my mom, leaving two young children and a newborn baby girl. The two kids were adopted out (and didn't even know my mom existed until MANY years later), but my mom remained with my biological grandfather for the time being. Soon, though, he determined that he couldn't take care of a baby, and gave my mother to a couple with whom he had been close. I have no idea what happened to him after this.

My mom's new family were Ralph and Bernice Foss. Ralph was Mormon. Bernice was Catholic. They decided to raise my mom as a Mormon, partly to honor her biological parents and partly because, well, it's far easier to be Mormon in Utah.

My parents were married in the Salt Lake City LDS temple. They were religious, but never particularly devout. My dad was a photographer and did some nude portraiture, some of which caused a minor neighborhood scandal in the 70s before I came around when he hung it in the living room.

Early Childhood (age 5ish to 10)
When I was two, we moved to a condominium in Murray. From as early as I can remember, I ADORED science. My favorite toy was a chemistry set which I had at an earlier age than the box indicated I should have. I had a little tent thing that covered my bed, making it look like a space shuttle. My career of choice vacillated between astronaut, paleontologist, and cosmologist (which was often mistaken for "cosmetologist" when I told people). I liked Disney Land and Sea World, sure, but the family event I was most excited about was going to see a Stephen Hawking lecture!

I attended church every week. By this time, my mother and father were no longer particularly active in the church, so I went to church on my own. At this time, I think my mom and dad would still consider themselves LDS (my dad might still to this day, he's not very forthcoming on that), but they were also very critical of the church's positions on many topics, and were dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. This was very nearly against doctrine. (The LDS-president at the time, Ezra Taft Benson, had once stated that it was impossible to be a Democrat and a good Mormon at once... An aside: Benson was a horrible racist.)

I believe my parents sent me to church for two main reasons. First, just as with my Mom, they figured it would be easier for me to be an active Mormon than not. Second, how the hell else were they going to get me out of the house four a couple of hours instead of watching interminable reruns of Wonder Woman and Star Trek on UHF channel 30.

Like any child, I assumed that the words of adults to be true, particularly words delivered by guys in suits to whom your parents entrust you in a big stately building. I'd go off every Sunday morning and hear about Joseph Smith's life (I once embarrassed myself by confusing Joseph Smith with Joseph of Nazareth) and memorizing the Articles of Faith. I loved me some science, but never really encountered any cognitive dissonance with my religion at this stage. (I say religion, and not "faith," as I had no faith and never really did. I just assumed there was good evidence to back all this stuff up.)

I was regarded as a thoughtful and intelligent child by regular- and Sunday-school teachers alike. I came to have a good friendship with my Sunday-school teacher (and years later, my wedding cake baker) Russ, who regarded me as a deeply reverent young boy, mostly because I asked a lot of questions and listened closely to his lessons (the same behaviors that got me in trouble down the road). I was still a science kid, but there was yet no conflict.

It wasn't until I was ten we moved from Murray (a suburb of Salt Lake, for those not in the know) to Midvale (another SLC suburb) that I had to confront some major issues I was developing with the LDS church, and with religion in general.

More to come.


Juditude said...'re leaving me hanging here! I LOVE these posts! What a great legacy for any who wish to read. I can't wait to read more!

GreenishBlue said...

Weird. I just discovered that this post somehow got set back to a draft, and was thus unavailable. Fixed now.