Saturday, January 20, 2007


I noticed in my last post a tendency in myself to use my past to explain away aspects of my life--to attribute cause and perhaps subconsciously also attribute blame. I try to consciously recognize and counteract such scapegoating because I think it's largely unproductive. Sure, the various circumstances of my life have helped to make me who I am, but ultimately I believe the responsibility for who I am lies in what I do with myself today, right now. And then I rightly have nobody to blame but myself for the character of the person I see in the mirror.

When Emma (who has since vanished into self-conscious lurker status) reminded me about the difficulties of mixed orientation marriage (yes, I know everyone hates the term, but it's at least common enough to be succinct and understood), I responded to her like this:

You mentioned depression and addictive behaviors and I'm afraid to say that I know intimately and personally how horrible dealing with such challenges can be (both from my own experience, my wife's, and other close family members... and my patients for that matter). However, my inclination has often been to attribute the problems we face in our marriage and my personal life specifically to my SSA. Now I've got a broader perspective and I think I've used SSA as a scapegoat inappropriately. That's not to say that it isn't a big challenge and that it doesn't influence every part of your married life, because it does. But there are healthy ways we've found to deal with depression and addictive behaviors within our current situation and we have no desire whatsoever for divorce.

I've never been suicidal, but I think the same applies. And I'm not suggesting that a person place blame on himself or herself, I'm suggesting blame isn't usually helpful at all when there are deep personal problems in our lives. If assigning a cause helps to mitigate it, then great. But blame usually just helps us feel victimized and absolved of solving the problem for ourselves. At least, that's the way I feel sometimes. I scapegoat lots of my problems as directly attributable to my struggle with porn, but what good does that do? It doesn't change the challenges I've got and the opportunity I have today to kick those challenges squarely in the butt. I can have better relationships with my friends, see guys around me as people rather than objects, etc. No more scapegoating for -L-.

As an extension of this topic, I've seen the church used as a scapegoat for all the difficulties people experience in the context of homosexuality. Blame is heaped on the church for not solving the full spectrum of people's personal problems--or for causing them. I realize that such blame is important for some to keep their feelings of betrayal fresh and hot, but I think the genuine mistakes made by church leaders or just the inadequacy of an organization to solve all of life's ills doesn't change the virtuous purposefulness and good that the church does accomplish. Attributing suicide to the church for its position on homosexuality is easy, but wrong. Folks who are suicidal because of an inability to deal with their sexuality within the church's context need professional help, not for the church to change its doctrines.

So there you go. It can't all be blamed on your parents, on being gay, on your struggles with porn, or on the church. Whether it's your being gay, your marriage, your personal flaws, or your unhealthy emotions, you can deal with the realities regardless of where they came from. And by "you" I mostly mean "me"!


mark said...


This was an interesting post. I agree that tossing blame around does tend to lead to self-absolution. It allows one to feel forever justified and superior while all one's problems and failings are someone else's fault. A world filled with people like that would be a disaster; frankly, even a world with a few people like that can be a disaster, witness individuals like Hitler whose inability to accept responsibility for any mistake or problem led to horror.

However, I think there is also a danger in saying that one is totally responsible for everything one is and does right now. The idea that we are totally free moral agents who have complete control over our every choice now has great appeal. However, I question whether in that extreme formulation it is really true. All of us have limitations. There are some things we do seemingly without much thought. But more to the point I am trying to make is this: we may be able to control ourselves for the most part, but we cannot control everything around us. We are not masters of our environments, nor entirely of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Why I raise this is because I think we can sometimes be so hyper-conscientious in our self-responsibility that we end up feeling guilty all the time, or feeling as if every misfortune that befalls is our own fault. It is the opposite of the person who always blames is the person who blames everything on themselves, who takes on the weight of the world and then some. I don't think that is healthy either.

On another note, I have to comment on your criticism of those who blame the church for all of their problems with homosexuality (or any number of other problems). I agree that it is easy to scapegoat the church or to portray it as the incarnation of evil in the world. That sort of scapegoating has been done too often by too many in respect of too many others, throughout history, and I don't like it much. On the other hand, to absolve the church (or any other group) of some failings or mistakes because of all the other good it does, while having a certain appeal, seems to me to risk becoming a kind of moral relativising of behaviour. Or, looked at another way, while it may be true that I cannot blame the church for my problems because I alone am responsible for my actions and choices and reactions, I think it is a mistake to pretend that the church's actions have no effect on others, either. I certainly can't go around saying, oh too bad if you don't like what I do or how I treat you, you are responsible for how you react to me, for how you live, etc., it's not my fault. I don't see why the church can do the same thing, in effect, by saying that its teachings about homosexuality or its political stand against gay rights have no effect on anyone else.

On another note, I find this philosophy of saying that the church is still good because it does so many fine things, and this outweighs the mistakes and failings of its leaders rather amusing. I say I find it amusing because it is not, generally, a standard that the church has applied to the generality of Christianity. In fact, it relies on the point that mainstream Christianity had failings to demonstrate an apostasy that required a restoration. Yet one could just as easily say that mainstream Christianity did tremendous good--I mean it created our entire civilization--and that its failings were those of a few of its leaders and people, who in any case have to be judged against the standards of their times, etc. etc. Certainly I have heard Joseph Smith and Brigham Young's failings sometimes justified on the basis of them having to be judged against the standard of their times. To quote a somewhat cliche line but a true one, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

-L- said...

I'm with you. I could have put in a lot of the qualifications and examples you've mentioned, but it was getting too long as a post and I figured someone would help me out by filling in the gaps. :-) My mom was one who believed we are masters of our own fate and if we are unhappy we have only ourselves to blame. That's one reason I didn't get professional help for my sever depression in high school. I was to just pull myself up by my bootstraps. So, I'm with you on the idea of a happy medium.

And I should say that the faults of the church I'm aware of are really the faults of leaders who are still learning and growing themselves (just as you've said). And I didn't intend to absolve, only to point out the extreme scapegoating I've seen. The faults of other churches in the apostasy is that none of them were God's church. So, that's the distinction from here in ardentmormonland. Hopefully no glass houses OR stones.

kittywaymo said...

But its so much easier to blame someone else for behaviors in oneself that are unflattering...

Your post was excellent. I am a great scape-goater..but i'm learning. I think it's all right to look at one's life and wonder why certain idiosyncrasies exist, however.

Samantha said...

I agree with what you've said. Now I have to add something.

One of the most difficult things I've encountered in my therapy is assigning blame away from myself. I'm not prone to using scapegoats, and have spent most of my life accepting responsibility for everything that has happened to me. There are times when blame should be placed in the appropriate place--in my case, I had to allow myself to acknowledge that I was not responsible for the acts imposed on me in an abuse situation.

I understand that I'm presenting the exception, not the rule, and I completely agree that we should not rely on our challenges to excuse our failings--just pointing out that sometimes even something as commendable as personal responsibility can be taken too far.

Chris said...

As usual, I find myself in agreement with Mark.

Rebecca said...

Amen to all. As with most things, it's all about finding the right balance.