Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

Posts tagged “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

…the hell is Mormonism, anyway? Part 3: Basis

(Note: I’ve decided to turn the “…the hell is Mormonism, anyway?” series into more of an occasional, on-going analysis with no set endpoint instead of a series of essays leading up to an ultimate goal, for a few personal reasons. I hope nobody is disappointed.)

A certain article popped up on my Facebook news feed today regarding the Church and its beliefs, coming from an author who seems to have become disillusioned with how things are run and presented, and nitpicks on some of the things in the Church that don’t really make sense. Normally I would just roll my eyes and move on, but the person who posted this article on Facebook (who shall remain anonymous for now and is not the author of the article) is someone important to me, so I felt like I needed to say something more on the subject. Unlike my previous posts on the topic of Mormonism, I’ll be revealing a little more of the basis of my own beliefs instead of just raising questions for discussion.

I find it ironic that the author of that post titles it “Obedience and Cherry-Picking”, because he seems to do a lot of cherry-picking on his own. Some of his “facts” are just nitpicking at semantics (such as the difference between “continuous” and “continuing” revelation, or whether or not Christ organized a church since he only used the actual word “church” like three times in the NT, despite, you know, organizing and teaching apostles and seventies, instituting rituals such as the sacrament, etc.), whereas others are based on widely-held beliefs within the Church that aren’t actually doctrine (such as some of the things he says about the temple ceremony and what it literally means) or are outright not true (the Church doesn’t claim to have the “fulness of truth” but the “fulness of the Gospel” which is very different). These things alone cause me to believe that there may be some other sides to the argument than the ones this author is presenting. If he wants to subject the Church to scrutiny, then it behooves us to subject his arguments to the same level of scrutiny.

But all of that ignores the larger problems with both that post and the ideas behind it. The website from which it comes is called “LDS Common Sense” which sounds like something that is good and makes sense, right? The problem is that a lot of religious beliefs, including many from the LDS church, don’t make a whole lot of sense. Some things are inconclusive, where others fly in the face of how the world works as we understand it. Applying “common sense” (which I will define as lining up all the causes and effects that are currently known in a way that we can understand without questions) to Church teachings just won’t work, at least not for all of them. It would be like a toddler trying to explain to another toddler how calculus works. If the Church is true, then by our own admission we can’t explain all of its concepts. Otherwise, what would be the point of faith?

Is that a cop-out? Maybe. Could it be true? Possibly. How can we tell the difference? Is there a way to distinguish between faith in something true yet not-understood and simple willful ignorance? Well, that’s the same question I asked in my earlier posts about Mormonism, and the same answers still apply (spoiler warning: they involve heavy use of the term “Holy Ghost”, something I felt a distinct lack of when I read that earlier article, as in I actually felt a little darker while reading it). Most of that, however, has been said before and probably won’t do much to change either side.

Something that I do believe deserves a little more scrutiny by both parties is something I mentioned earlier: namely, widely-held beliefs in the Church that aren’t actually doctrine. It is my personal belief that many of our “beliefs”, especially ones touted by ex- and anti-Mormons, aren’t actually our beliefs, but our traditions and/or speculations. An experience almost every missionary has faced involves someone wanting to come up and Bible-bash with something he once heard about Freemasons or whatever, and most missionaries don’t bite (and the ones who do rarely accomplish anything). Would it be so hard, however, to actually put in the time to research such a subject, at least enough to be able to point out enough logical fallacies in the anti-Mormon argument to leave it up to faith to reconcile the difference? Not to be able to prove that naysayer wrong, per se, but to be able to understand the topic enough so as to not ignore it entirely?

There is a lot of willful ignorance in the Church today, and many members aren’t actually sure what they believe. This is certainly not unique to Mormonism; indeed, most religions face the same problem, and the fact that the Church stresses scripture study so much is indicative of both the awareness of this problem and the solution to it. Knowledge is power, after all. If members today would step up their study of the gospel instead of coasting on half-remembered lessons from Sunday School (taught by people who half-remember their lesson from twenty years previous), some of these misconceptions may be weeded out. People may scoff at that one teacher who teaches from “Saturday’s Warrior” like it was a section of the D&C, but how many of us (including myself) are guilty of the same thing, even if it’s to a lesser degree?

Of course, another problem with scrutinizing our beliefs is where to get our information from. It’s understandable that people who are legitimately trying to understand our beliefs pull from sources both pro- and anti-Mormon in order to gain a balanced perspective. After all, both the Church and its detractors have their agendas (the Church wants to be portrayed in as positive as a light as possible, while its detractors desire the opposite), so the best way to find the truth is to compare notes and see what matches up, right? This would be true, assuming religious knowledge and truth were empirical in nature, which they are not. However, does that mean we can point-blank ignore all detractors due to our faith overcoming all shortcomings in our arguments? Also, how can we be sure that all the information we find is accurate, no matter which side it’s coming from (and it’s true that some sites sympathetic to the Church nevertheless possess and pass on inaccurate information)? I’d refer you to the answer I gave a few paragraphs above (the one that says “Holy Ghost” in it), but for bonus points I will point out that almost none of the links that that author gives to support his claims are actual official declarations of Church doctrine, and the ones that are are either semantics-arguing (such as the “continuous”/”continuing” point I mentioned earlier) or are arguments like “The Church says this [link], which some members believe means A, but I think means B, and B is wrong.”

The main beef the author of that article has is that we are expected to blindly obey, because we believe that the brethren give us God’s word. That in and of itself is one of those misunderstood doctrines, and indeed flies in the face of what the Church actually teaches. We are asked to confirm everything we’re given with a spiritual witness, even if it’s a commandment we don’t logically understand. The Primary song is “Search, Ponder, and Pray” not “Hear, Listen, and Obey”. That said, there are a lot of members who do just blindly obey, but one must not confuse that attitude with what the Church actually teaches. Even some things that may never make sense in our lifetime (such as some of the Church’s more controversial stands on things like blacks and the priesthood, or gay marriage) we are asked to pray about and seek a witness for, not just “shut up and obey”.

I also believe that the author makes the Church out to be far more arrogant and self-serving than it is. One of his assumptions, and I quote, “First, if such a conduit [referring to revelation to the prophet and apostles] existed, the Lord hasn’t been putting it to very good use.  According to one of the prophets who supposedly had such a conduit, the Church is meant to be a light to the world, yet instead it has become an exclusive light meant for only those who fit a certain contrived convention.  In other words, the verse that says God loves all His children equally and sent Christ ‘not to condemn the world’ but to save it (John 3:16-17) is less important than the dogma stating that revelation is only for those worthy of it according to LDS law.” This “dogma” doesn’t exist, at least not in the terms he puts forward. It’s true that revelation is only for those worthy of it, just like a driver’s license is only for those worthy of it, or a kid’s video game time is only for the kid who is worthy of it by emptying the dishwasher. Revelation is not exclusive to the Church (while doctrinal revelation has always come through God’s appointed prophets, other kinds have not). About the only things we actually claim is that we have the fulness of the Gospel (once again, not the fulness of truth), we have divine authority to perform ordinances (which we are trying to do for everyone, not just those who “fit a certain contrived convention”; that’s what work for the dead is for), and we are doing our best to follow Christ’s example (which we fail at a lot because we are human). Anything more is putting words in our mouths (or at the very least quoting personal opinions instead of “dogma”). Also, to say that because the Church doesn’t have an answer for all social problems; therefore, it can’t receive revelation, is a sub-argument of saying that God doesn’t have an answer for all social problems and therefore can’t give revelation. The Church does what it can for those suffering in the rest of the world, and the only reason that the Church emphasizes proselyting missionary work more than simple service and welfare missionary work is that a person’s spiritual well-being in the afterlife is more important than their temporal well-being here (and that is Christ’s teaching). And it does a lot for service and welfare outside its own membership. Just because it can’t do everything doesn’t mean that there’s no divinity in it, unless you make the same argument about God Himself (which I suppose you could do, if you were atheist or believed in an uncaring God).

I could go on about other specific arguments, but I’ll leave that up to others if they wish, as I simply do not have the time, energy, or knowledge to do so properly, and I also feel like I’m repeating myself and rambling a bit. But I do want to give one last thought regarding applying logic and/or common sense to Mormonism, as that site name implies.

If one assumes that the only way to discover truth is through empirical and/or logical means, then the only possible belief system one can hold is atheism. Literally nothing else makes sense as humankind understands it. However, nobody’s testimony is based in logic, but in faith (see the “babies trying to teach calculus” analogy I made earlier for why a testimony cannot be based solely in human logic). Spiritual knowledge must come from a spiritual source. Trying to apply a logical progression to our belief system may be a fun pastime and an interesting perspective on things, but it cannot be the basis of anybody’s religious belief system (unless, as I said, they’re atheist).

And that is why that article doesn’t affect my belief in the Church. As for receiving and recognizing that spiritual witness, well, that’s a discussion for another day.


The Moral of the Story


Here’s a story I heard from our bishop today, who is sadly getting released next week. He wanted to teach one last Sunday School lesson, and as part of it he told the tale of his son’s first wife, who was ultra-conservative in the faith, to the point that if the TV got turned on on Sunday, she’d go and play hymns loudly in the other room to drown out the sound. At one point they went to eat at my bishop’s father’s house (meaning the husband’s grandfather), and there was the grandfather, watching the Superbowl. This made her so angry that she went upstairs for three hours and didn’t speak to anyone, though the sound of hymns came through the ceiling every so often.

So what’s the moral of this story? And before you answer that, keep in mind that the name of my bishop is Thomas L. Monson. Which means the name of the grandfather watching the Superbowl was Thomas S. Monson. (Yes, that Thomas S. Monson.)

I won’t give a moral to this tale myself. My bishop’s point was that you shouldn’t marry a spiritual fanatic (unless you’re also a spiritual fanatic) because it will just make both of you unhappy; instead, marry somebody on roughly the same spiritual level as you (you know, as long as both of you are at least active members), but I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions.

Conference in a nutshell – quickly abbreviated version

From three separate talks:

  • I need to get married. Also, to stay married a couple needs to go to the temple a lot.

That’s…mostly it. That’s what I got out of it. Interesting.

More better conference nutshells. More…more better…

The Church of Dances of Latter-Day Basketball

Recently my sister Kjersti shared with my family an article written by LDS author Orson Scott Card titled “Holding on to the ‘others'” that I found quite insightful. The article is definitely worth a read, but for those who want a summary, it basically states that in Mormon culture those who excel at sports are traditionally celebrated, while those who are bookish or artistic are usually put off to the side and ostracized, and that’s a real problem. I had a few choice comments about it, many of which I want to share with you here.

What the article really makes me think of was back to the time when I was Elder’s Quorum President in one of my BYU wards. We were trying to reach out to the less-active members of the quorum, and I noted that a lot of them liked playing video games. So I proposed having an EQ activity where we’d have a Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart tournament in the courtyard of our apartment complex, projected up on a big screen. Since it was right next to people’s apartments it would take little effort for those who live in seclusion to join the party, and it would be a nice change from the sports and/or date nights that formed the basis of every other activity we ever had.

When I brought it up in a ward council meeting, however, I received vehement opposition to the idea. Not from the bishopric, who gave me their full support, but from other girls in the meeting (I don’t even remember what auxiliaries they belonged to) who literally stood up and started yelling (well, speaking loudly anyway) about how that was a terrible idea! Video games are evil! Anyone who plays video games is forcing themselves to be alienated from society! They just need to start coming to those sporting events and date nights if they ever want to learn how to function in the church! If the ward holds a function with video games we might as well be telling those sinners that we fully embrace their corruption!

I was totally flabbergasted. They were so passionate that this was a bad idea that it was like I had suggested that we reach out to inactives by holding an orgy. How could such blatant, short-sighted bigotry exist in the Church? True, an obsession with playing video games can be a detriment to a person, but so can an obsession with almost anything (Church Ball, anyone?). But for a person to suggest that the Church would be better off not reaching out to less-actives in a way that they’d respond, rather than plan an activity that wasn’t a common one in the LDS culture? Yet this sentiment, while not always so loudly and obviously expressed, is very alive and well within the Church.

This is one reason why I’m finding it tough to remain active these days, at least on days other than Sunday. I know the gospel is true, and I’ll defend it to the end of my days, but I’ll be darned if I can find someone in any of my recent wards to whom I can relate. Life isn’t carving pumpkins, playing volleyball, baking bread and going to awkward church dances! I love the gospel too much to go totally inactive, but the social aspect is making it harder and harder these days. Maybe it’s the ward? But I haven’t felt comfortable in a ward since at least 2008, both including times I’ve moved and times where the semester change-over cleared out large chunks of wards, in effect making them different animals. It’s saying something that the most interaction I’ve had with people in my current ward has been with the bishop’s wife. It’s also saying something that the only time I’ve felt entirely at ease with a group of other people this year has been when I was on a cruise and hanging out with my cousin Katrina’s wacky friends who were progressively getting more drunk as the night went on. (I don’t quite know what it’s saying, but it’s saying something.) True, I don’t really want to live the lifestyle they live, but it was really nice to be able to be myself without having to worry about social rules that I’ve never quite grasped yet am expected to follow at church activities.

Speaking of which, Kjersti also recently shared an article detailing how the Church can reach out to singles better. While many points I would make about that particular article I’ve already made before, I think that really, these two problems are related. It falls under one umbrella: people don’t know how to treat people that are different. And often it has to do more with who’s in authority than with any particular side. There have been times where I felt like an outcast because I knew about football in social situations where everyone else was making fun of it. It’s just that right now, more often than not, those in charge in the Church, at least on a local level, are more likely to be sports fans than academics or artistic folks. And it’s definitely true that most of the people in charge in the Church are married (since it’s a requirement for a lot of positions, such as bishop). It’s simple human tendency to listen to those they agree with and discount the other side as ignorant.

I had that point driven home for me recently when I responded to a review by an semi-famous Internet reviewer. In high school he played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering, but by doing so was ostracized by the public at large and often had to play these “devil games” (which are actually quite harmless) in secret. The reason I felt I had to respond personally to this was that he grew up in Mesa, AZ, and a large group of the people either shunning him or trying to convert him from his evil D&D playing ways, were members of the LDS faith. I posted a comment trying to explain and apologize for the situation, but had it pointed out to me that it wasn’t anything uniquely Mormon, but more human nature for people to ignore or preach at anybody they didn’t understand.

It all boils down to pride. One person or group is in charge, so their preferences are right and they have to make everyone else see that. Or one person or group isn’t in charge, so they feel resentful at the group that is, and especially at whatever that group likes or represents, however benign that thing may be. Heaven knows I’ve been guilty of this more times than I’d care to admit. Would I be happier if every week the Church had activities based on video games, or theater, or intellectual discussions, or even tabletop RPGs? Probably, but then the sports fans would be grumbling about all the accolades heaped upon the “drama freaks.” It’s finding that elusive equilibrium that has proved to be difficult: where we all can come together, united in purpose. I don’t know if that will ever happen. Even the Lord lost a third of the host of heaven because they disagreed. What hope do we have of being all-inclusive?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. While we can’t include everybody, we certainly can try to include as many as we can. That was my purpose behind the video game activity in Elders’ Quorum those years ago. I didn’t force those people who were opposed to the activity to come. I do think that leaders both in and out of the Church need to be more cognizant of different groups and their interests & accomplishments. I do think that the current emphasis on sports is waay out of proportion. Even in sports there’s an imbalance toward basketball and football (did you hear about the amazing performance of the local lacrosse team? Me neither). And I do think that, as a body, the Church needs to provide as many different opportunities for different groups to do what they love, even if it’s not the norm.

In short, I hate dances and playing basketball! Give me somewhere else to meet people, please, singles’ wards!

And, as a coda, the Mario Kart activity succeeded quite well. A lot of guys came that I’d never even seen before, and while many of them just as quickly sunk back into the shadows, a few started coming to other activities as well. Even some of the girls that otherwise would have been making bread or something at a Relief Society activity snuck out early to join in. (That actually became a running gag in the ward: on nights where the Relief Society had an activity the elders would plan one as well, and there were quite a few girls who would prefer our activity to theirs. Like when the girls were all going on a campout somewhere and so the guys planned to watch the manliest movie that we could get away with and still call it a Church activity, which ended up being Rocky, for some reason. Some of the girls ditched the campout because they wanted to watch Rocky instead of being in a canyon somewhere with a bunch of other girls.)