I remember sitting in Wisconsin while the coup in Iran was being broadcast on television in February 1979. Bearded clerics and their black-clad disciples had their fists and banners in the air, while they forced the Shah into exile and the country into a Muslim theocracy where politics and religion became married. I was just nine years old, but I remember thinking, “Don’t hurt my people.”

I was born in Iran, sometime in December 1969. Only days after my birth, I was left on the doorstep of a police station in Gorgan. The authorities took me to the capital, Tehran, and put me in a government-run orphanage that had been founded by Empress Farah Pahlavi, the wife of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

Then one day in 1976, I was pulled out of school and driven back to the orphanage, where I met a short dark-haired woman wearing a rain coat and glasses. She spoke a strange language that made me giggle. Later she would tell me that I reminded her so much of her son David when he was that age, that she immediately knew I was the one she wanted. The Holy Spirit had guided her to me, she said. Indeed, she believed the Holy Spirit had led the family to Iran just so they could find me.

At the time, the family was living temporarily in the industrial seaport town of Bandar-e ’Abbas. She was teaching English to adult Iranians, while her husband was working for a British company that built ships for the Iranian navy.

So I was adopted — into a family of Mormons.

The family I joined was certainly American. For much of my childhood, my new father, mother, two older sisters, three older brothers, and I lived in a two-story Victorian house in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, a lazy, beautiful town of shipbuilders and tourists. I learned to play Tag and Kick the Can, helped mow the lawn, participated in Little League games, sailed, biked, and went to garage sales and barbeques.

When I got older, I played football, sometimes as a running back, but mostly in the “left-back” position — as in “left back on the bench.” I watched our 13-inch black-and-white television like any other American kid, but maybe with a bit more attention to events like the Iranian Revolution.

But even more than being an American, I was a Mormon. At eight years old, I was baptized into the church. At 12, I was ordained a deacon, which meant I could pass the bread and water for the sacrament to the congregation. At 14, I was ordained a teacher. At 16, I became a priest, which meant I could say the prayer on the bread and water. At 18, I was made an elder.

And then I went on my mission for which my parents had been saving up money in a piggy bank since my baptism. I remember receiving the letter from the Salt Lake City, Utah headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informing me where I would be serving God.

I opened the letter, hands shaking and afraid to read the words, with thoughts of an exotic mission to some far-off place in South America or a French-speaking part of Africa. I had taken French and Spanish in high school and put those languages on my application.

Then I learned where I was going, the one place I would have never imagined: “You have been called to serve in the Nevada, Las Vegas Mission.” I spent two years in Sin City knocking door to door, baptizing and participating in the baptism of 24 adults and children.

With the religion came attitudes that seemed like bedrock principles. I learned that abortion is an abomination, divorce is a disgrace, and Democrats are just wrong about nearly everything.

After my mission I did what was, once again, expected of me: I got married.

Looking back at it now, I remember having doubts about my faith as young as 12, when I become a deacon. I felt like a fake at church, and I had an urge to be a rebel. But having been adopted, my fear of being rejected by my family was stronger than my need to question them or the church, so I did what I was supposed to.

But one event began to turn this upside down. My wife and I got a divorce. Under the Mormon faith, she was to write a letter to the church to obtain permission for our divorce and then send me a copy for my approval and signature. (Being the man, I didn’t have to write my own letter.)

It wasn’t until I started conducting research on Iranian Americans for my master’s thesis that I was struck by the parallels between the life of the Muslim I would have been in Iran and that of the Mormon I became in America.

Both religions were founded by men who suddenly had a vision of God — one god being “Allah,” the other being the “Heavenly Father.”

While both cultures revere women in their roles as mothers and emphasize the strong bonds of family, both are also male-dominated and oppressive to women on many levels.

Women in Orthodox Muslim culture have to wear a veil to cover their bodies; women in Mormon culture have to dress conservatively. Divorce is frowned upon by both cultures, and if divorce is necessary, the burden of proof is on the woman. Men are in positions of power in both religions — they are imams and clerics in Islam, and prophets and general authorities in Mormonism.

My study of these two religions led me to look at other religions. Then, one sunny afternoon in June 2002, I had a sudden moment of clarity while reading a passage in an English translation of the Quran that read just like one of the 10 commandments of the Bible. If the Quran and the Bible and the Book of Mormon and the Torah all have the same “moral guidelines,” why does each religion think it better than the others? What is the basis for centuries of religious wars, the clash of civilizations, the modern threats of terrorism, and religious-inspired nuclear annihilation?

I found myself feeling both disappointed and relieved. I was disappointed that it had taken me so long to understand what now seems self-evident to me, and relieved that I suddenly, after all these years, realized it was okay to question.

In looking at other religions and their political associations, I recognized the fears instilled in both religions. In Iran, to turn away from Islam is to deny Allah, for which punishment might equate to death. In Mormonism, to deny the “one and only true church” might lead to a punishment of loss of a social network and friends.

I often fight between my own belief of what should be and what I was taught: the hell of not following what I questioned about the church versus an underlying fear of going to “hell” when I had been taught the “truth.” I was fully inculcated with the fears, teachings, and beliefs of Mormonism, and it is difficult to deny that while a child can leave a church, the church may not leave the child.

To answer my own questions, I have looked elsewhere for a foundation of beliefs that do not resonate with such orthodox theocracies. I have found that my ultimate truth is the blending of all religions’ positive teachings and the forsaking of their fear tactics. In short, to teach love is my ultimate truth.

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