Feb 29, 2012
Brandt talks to Heather about his life as a believing Mormon.
Podcast: Play in new window
By Heather C.
I haven’t listened to this yet, but I just want everyone to know that I’m mentally changing the title to “Brandt Malone continues to be a reasonable human being who also is a practicing Mormon.”
Here’s to hoping Brandt doesn’t prove me wrong! ‘clink’
My suggestions of “The Rants of a Crazy Man, Featuring Brandt Malone” was obviously struck down.
I secretly wanted to name this episode:
Brandt Malone: Cow Eater, Cow Molester
I relate to Brandt as a fellow mid westerner (Chicago). I too am involved in the youth program (scouts)….but my shelf was/is not as strong as Brandts. One experience that I hope Brandt will appreciate. Last year my brother and I went up to the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior with our sons for some sea kayaking. Our small group had an entire 5 mile stretch of pristine beach all to ourselves. My internal clock goes off early and so I found myself on the beach at 5:00 am watching the sun come up over this beach….I sat there for a good hour with deep reflections all by myself….what I felt on that beach went well beyond any feeling I have ever had in the temple…..just me….God’s handiwork and calm….it really can be found in other places…..in the mid-west. Unfortunately the shelf that holds up the bizarre issues of the church are not made of Detroit steel….
Let me tell you – that is one of the most calming, tranquil things I’ve ever done. I’ve never watched the sunrise, but going to northern Michigan and watching the sunset over the lake, the waves, the sand…it really is a thing of beauty.
I appreciate your open mindedness in the ME discussions. As I have de-bugged and de-programmed myself I have had to take a similar metaphorical approach and wring out the positive nutrition in the church. I teach the 12-13 year olds and it is really difficult to program them as I am trying to deprogram myself…..thus we teach them to be good, kind citizens…as you mentioned. This is where the church needs to be….but they don’t know how to moderate without bringing down the house…. Thank you for keeping the ark steady.
Great podcast guys.
Brandt – quick question. What is your feeling about the exclusivity claims of the church? Do you agree that it is ‘the one totally true church,’ and/or do you believe that it is on some level right for absolutely everyone?
Very interesting question, and a question that I struggle with. I was thinking about it this morning, and this was the situation that popped into my mind. You’ve got a guy who was born and raised in Utah, pioneer family stock, going back to the Kirkland days, attends the temple every week, tithing, home teaching, etc. However, he is constantly judging people left and right for not being as “righteous” as him.
Take another guy, who might not even believe in religion. He gives to his local charity, loves his wife and kids, tries to do the right things for the right reasons, and really tries to be a friend to the friendless, a comforter to the comfortless, etc etc.
Here’s my question – who does God let in? Part of me sits here and thinks that we’ve become so accustomed to the LDS religion being that of checkmarks – “Well, I went to the temple, paid my tithing, taught my class, had the missionaries over this week…welp, I’m good!” However, everything that I see within Mormonism tells me it’s much more than that.
(I guess I better take a stand, since I can’t waffle my way out of this)…I think that the LDS religion was brought forth from God. I think that, on some level, it works for me. Is it right for everyone? That’s a good question – I wish I could answer it. There are implications for me answering one way or another – if I say yes, it is for everyone, I deny the fact that there are many who have struggled mightily with it. If I say no, it denies the claim of the “one true church” goes directly against D&C 1:30…”the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased”…
How’s that for a non-answer?
I knew it was a tough question when I asked it so I really appreciate your being willing to tackle it – and, honestly, I appreciate even more your willingness to throw your hands up and say you just don’t know.
As one of those people who struggled mightily and who found pain and difficulty (and no peace or joy) in the church I am really aware of the strange position I hold for believers. Those who are loving and wish to acknowledge the multiple journeys that we all take have a problem because they want to believe me and value my experience but it does challenge their scripture – as you cited. Those who can’t accept another path are, by default, forced to lay the blame for my experience firmly and, I have to say, cruelly right at my own door – making me sinful, prideful, broken etc.
For me, one of the great break-through moments I had (and I think it was largely through venues like this one) was to achieve a state where I could happily and lovingly embrace my faithful family’s beliefs. I hope that eventually the doctrine in mormonism will make some space for the faithful to allow the same grace to the non-belief and the journeys of we heathen.
Brandt is awesome. Great voice to have on the podcast. Really adds some variety into the discussion. Very interesting to hear his story. Very closely mirrors my own, although Brandt definitely has a stronger testimony than I.
Really enjoyed the podcast. Brandt has a great point of view.
I appreciate his point about how beliefs can become distorted when they are reduced to sound bites. My favorite example is hearing people say that Catholics practice cannibalism.
Technically, this is absolutely true according to Catholic doctrine. Catholics believe that the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist are transubstantiated at the moment of consecration and become the literal body and blood of Christ, though they retain the appearance of bread and wine. But Catholics are as horrified as anyone by the mental image of a cannibal orgy at Sunday Mass.
I’m also glad that Brandt shared his mission story illustrating how important it is to make a distinction between believing and knowing. I define a belief as a conclusion that is accepted with the admission that reasonable people with the same objective knowledge could come to a different conclusion. We should therefore be more circumspect about the things we believe — including virtually all of our religious beliefs – than the things we think we know.
I’ve heard the same thing about Catholics believing in cannibalism, and I’ve even heard that from my own faith. I think the sad thing is that our entire culture has been reduced to 2 sentence soundbites. Statistics, politics, religion, and social issues need to be stated in such up-front terms that it’s bombastic enough to be heard, but also stated in such short terms it’s hard for someone to “tie” them up.
Belief vs. knowing was really an eye-opener for me to really see how much of our LDS language and vocabulary we use and how different people view it. I’ve heard it brought up a lot before about people stating “I know” in testimonies, and detractors/non LDS people having their mind blown saying “HOW CAN YOU EVEN KNOW!?!??!,” especially when it comes from a 10 year old’s mouth. I knew someone that wanted to put out a Youtube video series called “Why I’m Mormon” or something like that, and it was filled with buzzwords. If someone LDS were to be watching it, they’d sit here and say “Oh yeah, he’s good, that’s exactly why I’m Mormon,” but anyone else? It would be like a foreign language.
Basically, that experience forced me to start looking at how I talked, and realize that we Mormons use these words like “I know,” but it’s actually a substitute for “I believe.”
The phrase “I know” may sound like a substitute for “I believe”, but when you ask the testifier to consider any idea that condraticts or conflicts with their witness it often is rejected as invalid. For many, the knowing expression about the church’s truthfullness is a monolithic belief. This does not compare to when others might say I believe. Many people who use the term “I believe” are willing to modify belief with more evidence. Those who demand others to acknowledge that they know base that knowledge on a witness of the Holy Ghost which is considered by them to be the greatest witness of truth. No other evidence has any ability to influence their “knowledge” because it cannot compare to the truth quality of the Holy Ghost.
Brandt mentions that his testimony consists of experiencing unique things in mormon temples that have not been able to be replicated any other way. I agree that every culture produces unique experiences. Just last sunday I went to a multicultural interfaith musical at the LDS Tanernacle at Temple Square. Each religious tradition was very unique and not replicated by other traditions. All of it was beautiful and interesting to experience, but that does not translate into it being true. Even if it is a wonderful, peaceful, inspiring experience.
Religion is a medium of crafting, developing, and experiencing culture. I have cultrual experiences when I read a mystery that are unique. Or, when I watch an adventure movie, or a fantasy movie. I have unique cultural experiences when I participate in sports or dancing, or play music. Many of these engagements are very unique experiences.
I think the temple is not replicated because it is not a highly exchanged cultural medium. The accessibility is limited to those you comply with religious lifestyles. Music, painting, dancing, and story telling are highly exchanged mediums. They are more accessible. Many religious rituals remain limited in cross cultural exchange. Just because it is limited to a few cultures that utilize temples today, it does not confirm a religious culture as more truthful about God or metaphysics of the universe.
I appreciate diversity of culture brought about by unique circumstances that shaped the cultural development. I can appreciate some uniqueness in mormon culture. However, the temple is like any other cultural shaper. Therefore, it is a unique expression of a reoccurring theme in other cultures and other times. Highly restricted to loyal cultural participants.
That’s a very interesting concept. I think it might have some legs to it. I’m not saying that my experience not being replicated anywhere is a standard that everyone should use. I guess I was fortunate enough that the temple wasn’t jarring to me as it was to others. And I’m not saying it’s because I’m a high-minded individual that it made perfect sense. As a matter of fact, I was confused, I was a bit disappointed, and a bit embarrassed that I didn’t know what everyone else knew as far as the ceremonies were concerned.
As a matter of fact, I think one of the best quotes I ever heard about the temple was from Prince and Wright’s David O. McKay bio. The first part of it really spoke to me:“Do you remember when you first went through the House of the Lord? I do. And I went out disappointed. Just a young man, out of college, anticipating great things when I went to the Temple. I was disappointed and grieved, and I have met hundreds of young men and young women since who had that experience.”
(Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005): 277.) The rest of the quote is really great as well.
I was so fully enculturated in the Mormon mindset that when I went to the temple I quickly adopted it as being significant. I was surprised at first, thinking, “Wow! This is what has been going on all these years. This is what my family has been doing.” I went nearly every week or two from May until December 2002 when I left for my mission. I sat for hours in the celestial room absorbing and relishing in the experience.
In the salt lake temple I felt connected to the pioneers. I felt like I was sitting in a royal palace. I reflected on the ceremony as a journey through life to become a God. And, I spent a lot of time in the celestial room just feeling like I was ordained to be a God. It was a very beautiful experience that I cannot discribe with justice here.
The experience did not startle me. It surprised me, because it was different. But, I always considered it symbolic. Symbolic of the journey from the premortal life in the presence of God, through life in the lone and dreary world, to be resurrected at the veil and admitted back into the presence of God into Celestial Godhood. The hand symbols represented accepting and using the power of Christ and the priesthood to resurrect me at the veil to become a Celestial Being. The covenants were designed to make me Holy to God, to become a God in the resurrection.
Symbolically, the temple fit to convey the mormon narrative of becoming “a king and a priest” in the Celestial World. It was a coronation ritual, to crown me. Or, to give me the first anointing like David in the old testament. Symbolically I was called to be faithful so the time would come for me to be ordained a king and a God in the life to come. For me, it was beautiful. I really wish I still had the conviction that my eternal potential is to be a God. It is the hardest doctrine for me to no longer feel certain about.
On my mission to Alabama the most powerful revelation experiences were connected with the acknowledgement that mankind has potential to be Gods in eternity. I really embraced that idea with all my soul. I even experienced reading Abinadi’s story, envisioning it from the point of God, seeing my hardhearted son Noah killing my other son Abinadi because I, the Father God sent him to give my message. That experience gave me a sense that when I became a God, I would have to send my faithful children to be sacrificed for my message. I mourned at the death of Abinadi. In that moment, I did not experience reading as observer of history, rather as a participant in the shoes of God himself. That is how powerful the doctrine of becoming a God worked on my religious experience.
There is far more symbolism in the temple that I loved. It all makes sense to me in the context of belief and conviction. Many cultures have believed in deification, mostly of their kings and rulers. The vision of Mormonism is that all people can be made into a literal God. Ritualistically, we convey that message. The current church leaders are not so bold as to preach it at conference. But, that is the root cultural experience for a literal believing mormon when they come to understand it. All doctrines and rituals in Mormonism lead to Godhood as the climax.
How could I know that perspective of eternity is revealed by God? Maybe it is fabricated by men and revealed by the culture they built up to convey that narrative. The founding thinkers and prophets of Mormonism leave me questioning what inspired that life narrative. And, the churches backing down from openly talking about it does not serve the experience. I always tried to convey that experience to others to show the depth of the message. But, the meat of the gospel message has been blended up and diluted into the milk, so as to keep members sucking on the nipple of the curriculum committy, not allowing them to chew the meet.
that was pretty much awesome.
Brandt – thank you for your candid comments about the end of your mission experience. I found my husband’s mission journal several months ago and was amazed at the progression from eager, faithful, innocence to heartbreaking disillusionment and despair. I hope more genuine stories get told, letting missionaries know that they can own the entire experience and not just the bits that are traditionally faith promoting.
That’s really something that I’ve been working on for a while with the missionaries in our area. I actually had a very strict mission, where people would be labeled “apostate” (or “bedo” in Korean, basically, a missionary who didn’t follow the rules) if they didn’t wake up at 6:30AM. We had a group of missionaries that really tried to live the mission rules, and it’s always been fascinating to hear about missionaries from other missions, and the “problems” they had. I had a roommate in college who served in New York, and he told me they had a TV, an XBox, and a DVD player in their apartment and they would watch movies and play XBox at night. I’m OK with having strict rules – there’s a lot of things, whether it be the military, your job, or other things that have strict rules, and for me personally, it taught me a lot of discipline. But to hear those other stories blew my mind.
Anyways, I had dinner at a friend’s house to watch the NBA draft last year, and my friend was the ward mission leader. Since his wife was cooking a bunch of food for the people coming over to watch the draft, he invited the missionaries. They stayed, they talked, they watched the draft with us and an investigator. They came up to me on Sunday, and said “Brother Malone, we need to apologize to you. We shouldn’t have watched the draft. That was wrong.”
I looked at them stunned. I said “You’ve got nothing to apologize for”
“We shouldn’t have been watching TV.”
“Let me ask you this. Do you get up every morning? Do you go out and try to contact every day? Do you teach? Do you try to work with less-actives? Do you try to live the mission rules?”
“Then you’re fine. Don’t go beating yourself up over a few little things and ruin your entire mission.”
And I think I had that perspective because that’s how I felt a lot during my mission.
I also think that too often we expect to hear the successful missionary stories. It’s expected to go on a mission. If you don’t, well, what’s wrong with you? If you come home early, even for legitimate medical reasons…you’re a second class citizen. Were you REALLY sent home for a medical reason, or was it…SOMETHING ELSE??? And then they come home and they HAVE to talk about how amazing everything was. The only room for “real” experiences are when 2 missionaries are talking to each other. You have to love every minute of your mission. You have to have amazing companions. You have to have amazing experiences. Just a few months ago, my Teacher’s quorum was asking me about my mission, and any “crazy” stories. Oh, I’ve got them. I couldn’t tell them though, because many of them are just inappropriate. Accidental walks down the red light district, accidental run-ins with “tea girls” (kinda like escorts….kinda), things like that.
Yes exactly, I think there’s narrative expectation. However much Mormons like to deny that there are rote phrases or prayers or whatever in their religion it’s just human to fall into patterns and the greater the jeopardy (in this case religiously) the greater the tendency to express the experience in the expected words.
If only that could be acknowledged, and if only it was also acknowledged that an awful lot of an extreme experience, especially one that spans two years of a very young life, does NOT fall into those prescribed patterns.
I know so many missionaries who feel like failures because their missions didn’t follow (always) what they were taught was the ‘correct’ path.
Maybe if more emphasis was placed on the individual journey – that the person who is going to get the most from a mission is likely to be the missionary – and less on the miraculous two year sacrifice? Maybe that would cut through the martyr syndrome somewhat.
I loved hearing your background and story. Thanks for sharing. Having grown up outside ‘the moridor’, seems to have given you a nuanced perspective. You seem to be familiar with Mormon history and to me it is still perplexing that you choose to participate. I suppose whatever works for an individual, although that may change, they should embrace.
I’ve had some friends here locally that have left the church put betting odds on when they think I’m going to leave. I’d like to think I’m kind of like Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, where he’ll dispense of a little bit of information once the pot hits a certain amount.
I have lots of questions, but not a lot of answers.
Brandt, it is remarkable that you are only 28. I am glad you survived the accident. By the time I was your age I had 3 kids. (Now 4)
As for participating with the Mormon church, teaching youth within that organization would be an unwelcome implicit endorsement of an organization which perpetuates teachings and practices that harm some individuals. Although my experience was good, it seems to me that what was good was driven primarily by meaningful input from caring individuals. I hope there are different avenues for caring people to engage with young people. This seems to be something you care about. I trust you will find a satisfying way to accomplish this beyond participation with an organization producing such a mixed bag of good and bad.
do you speak fluent korean? you had no translator with you what so ever? and you learned it in a few months at the mtc. big props if this is the case . and i think icelandic is rated as the one of the hardest languages in the world as well
Jack, I still do speak Korean, but not as fluently as I used to. Also, we had to spend about a year out before we were really ready to become senior companions, so it took us quite a while.
And I think that I remember hearing that Icelandic is a beast of a language as well.
I love the analogy between the mission and a fraternity. And good on you for standing up to the stupid know-it-alls who feel God has called them to bully everyone else.
Brandt stood up to Mike Tannehill? ;) J/K love you Mike.
I respect your choice. The thing I most appreciate is your willingness to not walk lock-step with the Church. That is just asking for abuse.
Personally I could not deal with the cog-dis and when I realized I was riding a dead horse, I got off.
I hope the monster burger was not made from the same cow you were milking. You did seem to have the same exact smile and aura of elation….
I wish you were my neighbor.
I’ve always found myself having a bit of a “rebel” streak in me. Perhaps that’s the reason why I wanted to be involved with the podcast. And for me, I’ve always subscribed to the Joseph Smith concept of “Teach them correct principles, and let them govern themselves.” That’s burned me at times, but its also helped me to get through some wretched times…
In the interest of full disclosure, the monster burger was taken BEFORE the cow milking picture, about 4 years apart.
Though I kind of wish they weren’t…it could be like the circle of life, right?CUE THE MUSIC!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vX07j9SDFcc
So, it was meat before milk.
Well played, good sir. Well played indeed.
Awesome podcast! Thanks for being so candid about your beliefs. A lot of your interpretations make much more sense to me then what most people teach; I’ve long believed scripture is less about historical accuracy then about it’s ability to inspire good, which makes all kinds of things scripture for me.
And thank you for what you said about Mike. I can’t stand him, and feel like he completely misrepresents so much of who Mormons are. Although I’m no longer a believing member, many of my friends and family are and none of then are as rude, dismissive or disrespectful as Mike. I get that a lot of people like him, but every time I hear him on podcasts he makes me want to break things.
Mike is a great guy. He really is. We disagree on some things, but he’s probably one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.
I’ll take your word for it, because he comes off horribly, at least to me.
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I like that Brandt can say, “I don’t know,” and that he thinks the church was wrong on some aspects. I can respect that, and it is incredibly disarming to hear a believing Mormon say that. Nothing is more aggravating than someone who sticks up their nose and blames the questioner for daring to ask a question that the believer can’t find a concrete answer to.
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