Last week, I posted on What I Want for My Daughters. This week I post on What I Want for My Son.
I want my son to know that he is loved no matter what he believes about God, Jesus, Joseph Smith, or the LDS Church. I want him to know that I respect his intelligence and his freedom to think for himself and to choose for himself, and that his parents' love for him is not conditioned on his believing in or practicing any particular religion, going on a mission, being straight, or marrying in the temple.
I want my son to grow up with the ability to analyze facts, assess evidence, and critically evaluate arguments he reads or hears. I want him to feel free to choose an educational and career path that fits his interests and talents, and not to feel pressured to go to a specific college or enter a certain professional field. I want him to possess a thirst for knowledge and a zeal for discovering truth, wherever it might be found and wherever it might lead.
I want my son to acquire an appreciation for the humanities, to develop his natural dramatic talents, and to do his part to perpetuate the arts in his community. I want him to develop a strong sense of self--to be self-assured, self-reliant, and self-aware. I also want him to use that self-awareness to realize how fortunate he is and to use his good fortune and abilities to help others, to serve others, and to relieve suffering in the world.
I want my son to view women as in every way the equal of men in intellect, ability, and worth. I want him to treat the women in his life with respect and dignity. I don't want him to think that just by virtue of having a penis, God thinks my son is a little more special than those who are not so, ahem, endowed. I don't want him to think that women are more spiritual than men or that motherhood is more sacred and divine than fatherhood, so God had to equalize things by giving men the priesthood. I don't want him to feel pressured into getting married and having children in his early twenties (though if he so chooses, I wouldn't disapprove).
I want him to internalize a similar attitude of egalitarianism with respect to everyone--regardless of the color of their skin, national origin, societal status, or sexual orientation. I want him not to think that he is any way superior by virtue of the color if his skin, his heritage, or his religious choices. I want him to develop a moral sensitivity rooted in the harm principle and not in religious dogmatism--to see right and wrong not in terms of the violation of arbitrary religious rules but in terms of ethics, responsibilities, obligations--to learn correct principles and govern himself accordingly.
I want my son not to view his sexuality as sinful or shameful. I want him not to be taught that sex is "sacred" and that, therefore, his sexual life is open for discussion and review by priesthood leaders. I want him to know that while sex is a private matter, it is nobody's business but his own. Consequently, I want him never to be subjected to invasive interviews conducted by church authorities. I want him especially not to be concerned with the ignorant ramblings of sex-obsessed ecclesiastical leaders who teach in contradiction to the scientific and medical evidence that masturbation is harmful. I want my son to grow up with a healthy attitude toward his body and sex, and not have his head filled with ancient superstitious nonsense passed off under the guise of revelation from God. Of course, I also want him to know that sex is powerful and like gunpowder, it ought to be treated with extreme care. The avoidance of unwanted pregnancy is not only a concern for women, but is the man's responsibility as well. Sex carries with it serious risk of disease, including diseases for which there is no cure and including diseases that can kill. There are valid reasons for abstaining or curtailing sexual activity--it's just that fear of the wrath of God and the clutches of Satan is not one of them.
As with my wishes for my daughters, I wonder whether the LDS Church is the best place for my son to develop the ideas, attitudes, and values I describe here. He has already decided he would not go to Seminary this year, though he is still active in the Boy Scouts. He's also somewhat active in a youth group associated with the local Unitarian Universalist church, which does support the kinds of things I've outlined above. For now, it is an arrangement that seems to be working. I think he has the space he needs to stretch his elbows and figure out who is and where he wants to go as he enters adulthood just a few years from now.
By contrast, I think the full-on Mormon youth program (3 hours of church every week; YM and Scouts; Seminary every school day; social groups limited to other church members; strict standards of dress, speech, entertainment choices, grooming; the MTC and a mission; church college; etc.) has the potential to be emotionally, socially, and intellectually stunting. Young men who go through the whole program emerge in their early 20s with their individuality wrung out of them, as they are recast in the mould of Mormon conformity. They have repressed the natural course that young people typically undergo, which involves a little rebellion, exploration, and pushing of boundaries. I think such repression is unhealthy. A little rumspringa might be better, in the long run.