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Thursday, April 08, 2004

S*x, S*x, S*x .... (title modified for filters) 

by Aaron B
In a recent thread at Times and Seasons, BCC's own Kristine and Steve had an interesting interchange about excommunication and the September 6. Steve said:

"Only they know the totality of the circumstances surrounding what happened, so I'm hesitant to assign it all to their inquisitive natures.

Kristine replied:
"I have to say that you have just made a comment of the type I find most troublesome about this event: the well-we-don't-know-everything-about-it-there-must-be-more-to-the-story-than-what-the-protagonists-are-
telling-us-probably-there-were-other-sins-involved. It leads to people sort of darkly hinting that there must
be sins those people have committed that they haven't told the media about and speculating as to what those might be."

Ironically, I made a point similar to Steve's recently at Sons of Mosiah. However, I want to run with Kristine's thought here, and explore the nature of this "dark hinting."

While at BYU, a good friend of mine -- "Bob" -- completely apostasized from the Church. Bob had been a very stellar, spiritual missionary, but some time after returning home he became convinced that he could feel the spirit just as strongly by reading the Koran or Lao-Tzu as he could the Book or Mormon; this conviction quickly snowballed into Bob's reinterpretation of "spirituality" as a mere emotional/psychological phenomenon without any divine character. (There were some other intellectual issues involved, but I won't get into them). Suffice it say, Bob determined to withdraw his name from the records of the Church. He is now a hard-core atheist.

I brought up Bob's experience with my BYU bishop, who was someone I often turned to for good conversation. The Bishop listened to my telling of Bob's saga with a strange smirk on his face, and when I had finished, he asked me: "So... which commmandment is Bob breaking?" I was floored. I found this completely offensive. I knew Bob quite well, and I knew that his intellectual issues were real. After laying this all out for the Bishop, all he could do was insinuate that Bob's real problem was that he wasn't keeping the Law of Chastity? Please.

But this is not an isolated incident. As a BYU freshman, I took a Book of Mormon class from a very popular, charismatic religion professor. He once told the class about a student from years past who kept raising contentious questions and doubts about the lesson material. After several weeks of this, Brother X suddenly felt "prompted" in class to accuse the student of adultery. This promptly shut him up. (Subsequent events allegedly "bore out the truth" of the professor's allegations.) And of course, the "point" of this story registered with the students loud and clear: When someone is having "intellectual issues," they aren't really "intellectual issues" at all, but rather indications of sexual sin! (And let's not fail to acknowledge the precedent for this kind of episode. Joseph Smith once made a similar accusation against a brother in the early days of the Church.)

I have come to suspect that for many Church members, there's "no such thing as a REAL intellectual concern." Everything is ultimately reducible to S*X, S*X, S*X. This way of looking at doubt very conveniently innoculates a large swath of members from ever listening to arguments carefully. If we can get everyone thinking about s*x (gasp!) or some other grievous sin, we can prevent them from even giving any consideration to what Sister So-and-So is griping about. I am interested in whether others have observed this same phenomenon, and if so, what they make of it? Maybe I am exaggerating the problem? Or misinterpreting what it means?

Finally, I should mention how my Bishop responded when I objected to his reductionist interpretation of Bob's experience. He said: "Aaron, I've been a Bishop for a long time, and I've seen a lot of people struggle with intellectual concerns. In my experience, it usually comes out later that most of these people were using their concerns as a cover for sin or other LDS lifestyle issues that they had."

How can I argue with this? I've never been a Bishop, and my Bishop undoubtedly has had more experience in this area than I have. And I don't find it hard to believe that in a given case, an individual might use "intellectual qualms" as a cover for sexual sin. But at the same time, I find inappropriate the tendency to paint with this broad a brush and dismiss members' intellectual struggles without considering them on their own terms. Ultimately, to the extent we choose to describe doubters and "apostates" in this fashion, I wonder if this doesn't say more about us than it does about them.

Aaron B
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