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Damned for Good

Talking to a friend who grew up in a different religion than I did, I was surprised to discover how much our journey of leaving that religion of origin was the same. She said that she ultimately decided that if she was going to be damned by God, she wanted to be damned for being who she truly was, and for doing what she thought was good. She’d rather end up damned for good than go to heaven if she had to be untrue to herself or follow a theology or morality that she really didn’t believe in.

I loved this idea immediately and have spent a great deal of time thinking about it since then. I have been undoing the concept of God that I grew up with for a long time and replacing it with another idea of God. But in a way, I’ve been doing this because I wanted to recreate a morality system in which I wasn’t damned or condemned for being myself because it turned out I didn’t think I was such a terrible person — and also because I looked around at others who were condemned by the same system and I didn’t think they were such horrible people, either. This was true for LGBT friends and family, as well as for people who didn’t believe in Mormonism, not to mention people who might be in prison for crimes I didn’t think were crimes and those who were in prison for crimes I did think were crimes.

Before I left Mormonism, I had begun to have serious problems with the idea of the celestial kingdom. It seemed to me that as the prophets described it, it wasn’t a place I wanted to go. It was a lot like this world, with women doing a lot of work behind the scenes and remaining invisible, possible polygamy that I might not have agreed to, not to mention having children into the eternities and continuing all of my church service, too. It was exhausting to think about it. It was also not allowed for me to say that this idea of heaven sounded horrible to me.

Sometimes that got a response of, well, then you don’t understand it or you just haven’t seen the true vision yet. Sometimes it got the wide-eyed horror look or a snide response that there were other, lesser kingdoms if I wanted to go to those instead.

Guess what? The lesser kingdoms sounded a lot better to me. No rules, no bearing of children, and hanging out with all the cool people in history who wouldn’t accept the Mormon church — including most of the world’s best artists, actors, musicians, and poets who are likely on the LGBT spectrum. In the lesser kingdoms, it sounded like people could rest and relax and stop worrying about building the kingdom day and night. They could just be.

And yes, I knew that if that was what I wanted, it meant that Mormonism probably wasn’t for me. I kept trying to make myself want the celestial kingdom. I really did. I tried to press that image of eternal womanhood onto myself again and again. But it made me miserable, so much so that I was dealing with a lot of suicidal thoughts until I gave up on Mormon heaven and told myself I’d be in hell with the sinners and that was good enough for me.

It was a lot longer before I realized I had the ability to reject all of Mormonism and stop thinking of myself as weak, selfish, and unfit for heaven. I could reinvent heaven, or take some ideas from other religions about heaven that worked better for me and the God I’d found outside of Mormonism.

Now I think about the whole idea of damnation with a side-eye. Really? That’s what Jesus came for? To condemn people? I don’t think so. I think he had a radical mind and was about taking power away from the powerful and putting everyone on the same level playing field. I don’t think he hated the Romans or the Pharisees, though he took potshots at them plenty.

I kind of like Jesus. I don’t believe in heaven anymore, or in damnation, but in my imagination, Jesus comes to those in hell and I’ll get to meet him there. I think we’re going to be friends. It seems to me he kind of accepted that he was damning himself according to the traditions of the Jews. And he was OK with it. He couldn’t be someone who he wasn’t. Or he wasn’t willing to be.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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