Robert Kirby: There’s more than one way to be yourself in your religion

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Kirby

Growing up outside of Utah, I never encountered many social problems for being a Mormon. I’m guessing it was a military brat thing.

The nomadic lifestyle caused people to glom onto whatever they could in a relationship. Religion wasn’t a condition when making friends at school.

Whether a girl was Christian, Jewish, Muslim or pagan had no bearing on whether I was physically attracted to her. Hormones always had the first say. Religion, if it were going to be a problem at all, didn’t come up until much later.

The only times my religion ever raised concerns were when adults discovered it, like when I played at my friends’ homes. When Donny’s old man, for example, found out that I was a “god[darn] Mormon.”

For some reason, being from Arkansas made Donny’s dad less than pleased with our friendship. But that didn’t stop it. Donny and I remained friends until his father got orders for Vietnam, and they moved away.

The other time my church membership was held up for ridicule was when I was caught smoking behind the gym with some friends.

The P.E. teacher, Mr. Johnson, hauled us inside. We stood in a line at the door of his office, where he called us in one at a time and administered swats with a paddle.

When it was my turn, Mr. Johnson thought he could shame me further with, “You’re Mormon. Why are you smoking?"

The first thought that jumped into my head wasn’t, “He’s right, I should be ashamed of myself.” Rather it was, “Probably for the same reason you’re a P.E. teacher and fat.”

I didn’t say this, of course. I already had a beating coming. No sense in making it worse.

I may not have been a by-the-book-Mormon as a kid, but I went to church every Sunday and did my best to keep my behavior within the category of misdemeanors.

Other than that, religion never really came up. But then my family moved to the epicenter of our faith: Zion. It was in Utah that things went horribly awry.

Suddenly, it was not only important whether I was Mormon but also how good of a Mormon. Did I cuss? Did I smell like tobacco? Was I a good Boy Scout? Was I planning to serve a mission? Had liquor ever touched my lips?

Overnight, two-thirds of the datable female population became off-limits. Neighbors — all members of our Latter-day Saint ward — scrutinized my every move, the better to inform on me should something untoward happen.

The truth is that there are different kinds of individual faiths. Are you a fanatical Christian, a moderate or lukewarm? Atheist? Agnostic? Kosher? New reformed? There are as many levels of belief as there are people.

It’s the one great truth about religion — you’ll always get more crap from inside than out. It’s where how you believe becomes more important than what you believe

Going into the Army and later serving a mission made me the kind of Mormon I am today. The kind that doesn’t factor in your opinion on the matter. And the kind that still prefers to be called Mormon rather than some kind of saint.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.