So what’s getting in the way?
What aspects of Mormon culture hold us back? What sorts of things get said in our culture that aren’t helpful? What cliches drive us crazy, what ideas are just teeth-grittingly annoying? And how can we look for the humor in comments that might otherwise hurt and sting?
For a long time, I was a staff writer for something called the Sugarbeet. Sort of a Mormon answer to the Onion. Basically, we made fun of Mormon culture. We put out a book and everything. And although I was a very minor part of the whole enterprise, I found it really did wonders for my, well, testimony. It helps to laugh.
I’ve heard it all my life; people ‘go inactive’ because people in the Church say something that offends them, and that drives them away. But to me, it’s not comments from ward members that hurt, but the attitudes those comments reveal. And it’s not really that we ‘get offended.’ It’s more like we start to wonder ‘where do I fit in? If that’s what everyone believes, and I don’t believe it, why am I here?’ So let’s look at some things people say, and how we might possibly respond.
“We’re living in the Last Days. And our inspired constitution is hanging by a thread. It’s up to us, the Priesthood of God, to save it.”
Okay, I’m a liberal Democrat, and I live in Provo, Utah. I’m outnumbered. I’m, like, Custer-at-the-Little-Bighorn outnumbered. The folks in my ward are really nice about it, but every once in awhile, people blurt out something about that Moslem Socialist in the White House, and it’s annoying. Comments like this have diminished since a Certain Somebody lost the last Presidential election, but they haven’t gone away entirely, as recent comments by a Utah stake President have shown.
It helps to know the facts. The ‘constitution hangs by a thread’ stuff comes from something called the White Horse prophecy, which Joseph Smith probably never mentioned and which the Church has officially repudiated. (Here’s a link to a scholarly article in BYU Studies on this prophecy.) But like many folk doctrines, folks still believe in it, and cite it all the time. Even Glenn Beck, I understand. It’s best just to remember that the Church’s official policy is non-partisan, and that lots of Church leaders have likewise been Democrats. And that might even be worth pointing out, from time to time.
“Don’t you believe in the prophet?”
Said with a condescending smile, right? What happens is that you’ll be talking, and you’ll say something maybe slightly unorthodox, and this is the conversation-stopping response. I see it a lot in science/religion discussions. You’ll say something about, say, pre-Adamic death, and someone will quote Mormon Doctrine at you.
Mormonism is built on a foundation of continuing revelation. But that doesn’t mean that every comment made by a General Authority is equally authoritative. Sometimes the Brethren have disagreed. At times, even, they’ve gotten things wrong. My main way of dealing with this kind of comment is to say something like ‘well, we’ll have to agree to disagree,’ and walk away. But I think that’s a really lame response, and wish I had a better one. Any suggestions?
“President Benson said that R-rated movies. . .”
I love film, as an art form. I see lots of movies, I taught classes on film at the college level for twenty years, I study film theory. I like movies. And I have really good reasons to reject the MPAA rating system as a guide to, well, basically, anything. I see many many movies, and I don’t much care what they’re rated.
But for some people in the Church, President Benson’s comments about the rating system suggest an absolute standard, binding on all Latter-day Saints. And the thing is, it simplifies matters. R-rated=bad, PG-13=okay. But the fact is, I have seen R-rated movies that were profoundly and powerfully moral, that changed my life for the better. And PG-13 movies that were bad aesthetically and morally. A letter-of-the-rating approach completely ignores the complexity and subjectivity of art generally, or of film as an art form, but if you’re not much into movies, that may not matter much. I’m going to see the movies I’m going to see. And give a friendly wave to ward members I happen to see at the cineplex.
“Read approved works by the Brethren. We don’t need to read works by atheists or agnostics or anti-Mormons. Just read approved materials and you’ll be fine.”
So, what, I’m supposed to research the religious views of every author I read? Really? I’ve got a five book a week habit goin’ on here. I don’t have the faintest idea which of my favorite authors are atheists. More to the point, I believe in actively seeking out books that are virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy. An active search takes effort. And to me,it’s worth it.
There are book people, people who love to read, who go to the library twice a week, who would rather read than eat. I’m one, so’s my wife. And then there are people who don’t enjoy reading. That’s totally cool. I don’t feel like I have the right to comment on what other people do for fun. (Hunting, fishing, really any outdoor sports). I’m going to read a lot, all the time. Most of what I read is non-fiction, because to me, it’s fun to learn about the world. I don’t read a lot of ‘approved materials,’ because they’re boring.
“I know. . . .”
The Church is true. The Book of Mormon is true. That President Monson is a prophet of God.
I understand, rhetorically, that to say ‘I know’ seems stronger than to say ‘I believe.’ But my reading of the scriptures tells me that we’re saved by faith, and not necessarily by knowledge. In fact, to just believe is considered as much a gift of the spirit as ‘knowing.’
To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful. D&C 46: 13-14.
I don’t know very many things on this earth. I’m pretty confident in gravity. But religiously? I try. I do my best. I wish testimony meetings could focus a little less on certitude, and bit more on the struggle for faith. Faith is, after all, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Let me find sustenance in that paradox, and be grateful for what I do not know.