Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Theology of Guilt, Shame, and Personal Self-Destruction

So, I read another chapter of Cramer's book this morning and it really saddened me. He spends a whole chapter detailing his struggle since age twelve with the evil and degrading practice of masturbation (or his preferred terms of self-love and self-stimulation) and pornography. Despite countless hours of selfless, dedicated service in the church, regular scripture reading, weekly family home evenings, regular church attendance, and almost fanatical striving to make up for this evil and degrading sin he continued in a cycle of abstinance and then return to his evil and degrading sin. The guilt and self-loathing continued to build. It affects all aspects of his life until he finally gives up hope of ever conquering it. Although his periods of repentance and righteousness get longer as he grows older, he always fall back into his sinful ways and each time he wallows deeper and deeper in sin. Finally he gives up hope and decides that he will never be a celestial person and reconciles himself with the fact that he will have to spend eternity in a lower kingdom without his family and the blessings of exaltation. He becomes disillusioned with his life and seeking to escape he turns to a divorced female client for comfort and love and throws his life away on a one night stand.

That's as far as I've gotten, but you can see what's coming. At his point, consumed by guilt and horror at having violated his temple convenants and the trust of his family he runs to the bishop, confesses, gets excommunicated, and after further torture, abasement, and humiliation conquers his lifelong habits, gets rebaptized, and lives happily every after to become the bestselling author of ridiculous self-help books for the religiously deluded.

OK, as he's detailing how masturbation and porn led to his slide into wickedness he mentions how a few other, apparently peripheral, issues were also going on. He married at a young age. He states that he and his wife were too young. He had eight children. He worked long, physically demanding days in a feed and grain store. In order to make ends meet he did tax returns for 200 clients and sold life insurance on the side. He was $8000 in debt (book was written in 1983) which was probably overwhelming given his large family and modest income. Despite the crushing work load he wasn't making a dent in the debt. He was forty at the time of his fall, so his children were probably starting to graduate from high school and want to go to college which it sounds like he wouldn't have been able to help with. He was also faithfully serving in church callings and attending all of his meetings and presumably also supporting his children in their church activities. Presumably, his wife was a stay at home mom. He was apparently getting no nooky because at the end he was sleeping on the sofa in the den because he felt too guilty to sleep with his wife. Anyway, all of this was going on, but the cause of his fall was addiction to masturbation and porn.

Now, actually, this part of the story rings true. He claims that he never had lessons condemning masturbation at church but that he just knew from the Spirit that it was wrong. Maybe he grew up before Boyd K. Packer gave his infamous Little Factory talk in general priesthood meeting. I actually remember hearing that talk live when I was eleven or twelve. I remember getting the pamphlet of the talk in church. I remember annual lessons on the evils of masturbation. I remember the questions regarding masturbation from the bishop and my father. At least by the late 1970s, the church was on an active crusade to rid the church of the evils of masturbation and to prevent its young men from abusing themselves. As far as I can tell, that continues today with an additional emphasis on the evils of pornography. Any young man in the church guilty of masturbation knows it is wrong and feels guilty. Unfortunately, probably 95% masturbate at least occassionally. As one pundit put it, everyone does it, but no one talks about it. Experts on the topic such as Spencer Kimball warn how it can lead to homosexuality. Others have counseled tieing your hands to the bed to prevent inadvertently touching yourself while sleeping. Because it's BAD. Really BAD. You should feel BAD. You should feel GUILTY. You should CONFESS. You should REPENT.

Sorry if that's too graphic. My point is, this man focused on what the church told him to focus on and lost sight of the fact that his problems were really caused by following the counsel of the church in every other area of his life. He married too young, he had too many children, he paid excessive tithing, he spent too much time at church, he didn't cultivate his marriage relationship, he didn't have a satisfying sexual relationship with his wife, etc. The least of his problems were masturbation and porn. Even if he'd been successful in avoiding porn and masturbation I still think he would have been depressed and dissatisfied with his life and that this dissatisfaction would have led him to at least consider an affair when the opportunity presented itself. But, if it hadn't been for the guilt and self-loathing and reduced self-esteem that he'd learned form the church, perhaps he'd have been better equipped to resist the temptation to have an affair.

I actually feel sorry for the guy. Whether it's a true story or not, it's sad because many of the themes are shared by many members of the church and instead of realizing the damage that the church's belief system is wreaking in their lives, they voluntarily submit to more of the same and plunge back into the church with even more self-abandonment.


La said...

So is he implying that now he's just soring on cloud 9? Now that he's rebaptized he's A-ok?

Ya right

Bull said...

I haven't gotten that far, but he's written several more "inspirational" books since then, so may it worked for him. I'm kind of curious to read more, in a sick sort of way.

Sideon said...

It sounds like the only joy in his life at that time WAS the porn and masturbation.

Bull said...

Here's another sad part. He had apparently started an afair that was initially non-sexual. Once he finally consumated the relationship he had his epiphany and went and spilled the beans to his wife and bishop. From his descriptions it sounds like he and his mistress were quite happy with each other and looking forward to the future. In other words, he was looking to discard his miserable existence in the church for happiness in a new life.

Now, I'm not justifying his infidelity. I think it was wrong. But it hurt to see him saying that he only thought he was happy, but that he realized it was just a shallow illusion and that in the end no good could come from it. He wound up dumping his mistress and completely cutting her off and hurting her as well.

One lesson is that infidelity is selfish and hurts everyone involved.

But, it doesn't seem right to say that what makes you happy isn't true happiness because it conflicts with someone elses definitions of right and wrong. I think he needed to figure out what was making him happy in that relationship and either fix his marriage to contain those elements or else get a divorce and find true happiness.