Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Squandered Opportunity 

by Mathew

The single biggest reason I can think of why any American should not vote for Bush is the way he squandered the good will of the world after 9/11. Instead of seizing the moment to further discredit a corrupt ideology not only here at home but around the world, Bush’s poor judgment has given it strength. In May the International Institute for Strategic Studies released a report which noted that al-Qaeda recruitment has been accelerated by the war in Iraq and, as we all know, our relationships with many of our strongest and closest allies have been severely damaged. I will never shake the conviction that we failed to seize the post-9/11 moment to take the war of ideas to our enemies–instead we gave them a propaganda boon.

As for the Republican convention, there isn’t a lot to say about anything you haven’t seen on TV. The city itself is unusually empty–if you could leave, you probably did. If you couldn’t leave, but your company agreed, you are telecommuting. If you are like me, however, you are still taking that train to work–and wondering somewhere in the back of your mind if Madrid will repeat itself. Armed men patrol the streets–you literally can’t walk a block in mid-town (where my office is) without seeing five to ten cops or army types. I personally haven’t seen any of the mass protests, but upon emerging from my building on my way to the gym today I was surprised to see twenty or so cops hanging around along with an equal number of photographers. I asked them what was going on and they told me that they were expecting some sort of protest which apparently never materialized. In the locker room at the gym I hear blue collar workers ranting about Giuliani’s speech. I’ll be glad when it’s over and I only have to see security officers with machine guns at the airport.


Sunday, August 29, 2004

A Few Thoughts on 'Believing' and 'Doing' 

by John H
Over at some other blog, in a topic that seems to be winding down, a comment made by Jared really grabbed my attention. He said, "As Nate Oman and others never tire of pointing out, the church mostly cares about what we do rather than what we believe."

Upfront I have to say I'm not familiar with previous threads or discussions that have touched on this topic. So I'm most likely misunderstanding what Nate and others have been trying to say and what their perspectives are. (Nate's obviously a very thoughtful fellow and I have no doubt he's put a lot into his reasoning, as always.)

That said, this notion that the Church cares more about doing than believing is pretty much foreign to my own experience. I'm one who wanders through Mormonism wary of saying precisely what I believe in Church. I don't want to suggest that my experiences or my perspective are somehow evidence that my paranoia is correct. I'm truly very curious as to what others' experiences are and if people think my concern about speaking out is without merit.

My experience tells me: If I don't show up to help someone in Elder's Quorum move, no one says a word. If I miss my home teaching, no one calls to chastise me. If I don't sign up to do a cannery assignment, not a word of disapproval is uttered in my direction. I've had times in my Church activity where I couldn't (or wouldn't) participate all that much. No one talked to me, no one criticized me, no one approached me and asked me what my problem was. I showed up to Church each week and coasted by.

On the occasions I've dared venture my beliefs in Church, it hasn't gone so well. When I introduced the Book of Mormon to my Gospel Doctrine class, I touched very briefly on Joseph's money digging. I suggested that Joseph used his seeing talents to try and provide for his poor family before realizing that he had a much higher calling and that there were more important ways to use his gift. One woman a week later told me how disturbed she had been at what I said and pointedly told me not to stray from the manual, since that's all the Brethren had approved. When I mentioned that the Melchizedek Priesthood was probably restored in 1830 and not 1829, two people were so angry I thought after Church they'd be heading to the hardware store to pick up torches and pitchforks.

During a discussion while I worked at Deseret Book, the topic of progression between degrees of glory came up. I mentioned President McKay's letter that said we don't know if it is possible, and I also pointed out that some leaders had said it would be possible, while others quite strongly insisted it would not. One man (these were employees chatting in the breakroom - not customers) became very uncomfortable and said he didn't think it was appropriate to talk about this. Another woman actually began to cry and said this was the reason her brother had left the Church, and why did people like me refuse to believe the truth (in this case, the truth was that you could not progress between kingdoms).

I could go on, but I won't. Suffice it to say I'm not persuaded that these are just a few anecdotal stories that prove nothing. These kinds of disagreements are hardly over fundamental points of doctrine. So here's my problem: Given the experiences I've had and the experiences I've seen others go through, I proceed through Church convinced that if I spoke up, I would not be accepted. Perhaps it isn't fair to assume how people would act. But I can't see it being too well received if I said that I didn't believe the Book of Mormon was a historical record, or if I mentioned my support for gay marriage.

The temple recommend interview, which seems to be the primary criteria for determining worthiness in the Church, seems to be mostly about belief. Yes, many things involve both believing and doing, such as the Word of Wisdom. But I suspect one's condemnation would be the same regardless of whether they actually broke the Word of Wisdom or whether they said they believed it was ok to break it.

In short, the Mormon community I've grown up in and lived seems to have repeatedly demonstrated to me that it's beliefs that get you in trouble or get you accepted. I've seen it as my father's left the Church, as friends in Sunstone have been looked upon with suspicion, and as I've garnered more raised eyebrows than you can count. If you stray from the orthodox perspective, someone will be there to correct you or remind you that you're wrong. Granted, most people probably won't say anything. But we don't pay attention to those who don't come up to us, while we tend to make a pretty big deal out of the ones that do.


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

First Presidency Adds New Statement to Letter on Political Neutrality 

by John H
The First Presidency has written the expected letter on political neutrality and by now it has been read over most pulpits throughout the U.S. But this year as I sat in Sacrament and heard the letter, I could swear there was a new addition. As it turns out, I wasn't wrong. (You can view the full text of the letter here.) The last line in this year's letter reads, "In addition, members who hold public office should not give the impression they represent the Church as they work for solutions to social problems."

For those of us living in Utah, this (at least at first glance) seems like an obvious allusion to the Utah State Legislature (which is 90% LDS). In recent years the Legislature has prompted almost half a dozen statements from the Church in an effort to clarify its position after the Church was cited as a reason behind proposed legislation. One such statement addressed the issue of concealed weapons in Church. The ultra-conservative legislature insisted those with concealed weapons permits have a right to carry their 9mm glock into a school or church building. Some legislators expressed their genuine shock and surprise when the Church announced it was opposed to weapons in their buildings and would take the steps necessary to prevent such weapons.

Another surprise for conservatives in Utah came when the Church announced it did not oppose a bill to create hate-crime legislation. Gayle Ruzicka, director of the Utah Eagle Forum (a group so conservative they make John Birchers look like socialists) insisted the Church's statement on the hate-crimes bill had been misunderstood, and then she graciously took the time to tell everyone exactly what the Church really meant. In response, the Church actually released another statement effectively chastising Ruzicka (a member of the Church) by reiterating that it did not oppose the hate-crime bill and that any attempt to attribute any other meaning to their first statement was a mistake.

Most recently, a political group that supported a bill that would have made it impossible for undocumented workers to get a drivers license, cited LDS teachings of honoring and sustaining the law as a reason why the bill should pass. The group also insisted the Church would not give a temple recommend to an illegal immigrant. The Church issued yet another statement, saying it had no position on the bill in the legislature, and that illegals can have temple recommends, since they are issued based on personal worthiness, not nationality.

So for the millionth time in the bloggernacle, what is it with some Mormons and politics? I just learned that church-owned Deseret Book has received several complaints from customers who are incensed that the store would dare carry Bill Clinton's memoir. As one customer put it, "Deseret Book used to be my safe haven. Now I can't even trust it."

Are most Mormons political conservatives who just can't fathom that someone would be a Mormon and a liberal? Or are a few squeaky wheels getting lots of oil in the media and in our minds? Am I just so annoyed at people like those who complain to Deseret Book that I magnify them in my own mind to be more representative than they really are?


Sunday, August 22, 2004

Every Member a ...Sunstoner?! 

by Kristine
So today I had the slightly surreal experience of having our ward mission leader approach me in the hallway with a visitor in tow, saying "there she is--she's our Ward Sunstoner. She just got back from the symposium" with a beaming grin on his face.

Turns out that he (the WML) had met a young man during a fair at which our ward was manning a family history booth. The young man seemed well-informed, and eventually confessed to being a member. "But," he said, "I'm more a Sunstone than Sacrament Meeting kind of guy." So WML convinced him that it was possible to do both, and was thrilled that the Ward Choir Director/RS Secretary/Music Chairman/Sacrament Meeting Chorister was also a bona fide Sunstone reader and subscriber who could be called upon for witty banter to distract our visitor (who works for the DNC) from the running Republican sniping that passes for discussion of the Book of Mormon in Sunday School.

In closing, I just want to say that I hope that we can all remember the importance of being missionaries and setting a good example by attending the Sunstone symposium!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Growing Old Ungracefully 

by John H
I was getting a haircut today (for the record, I get my hair cut at a posh salon known as "Dollar Cuts") when the stylist had to run to the front to make an appointment for a walk-in. While she was gone, I looked down at some of the hair that had fallen in my lap. It looked remarkably like salt and pepper. "That's impossible," I thought. I'll find a rogue gray hair now and then, but I'm 27 years old and I hardly look gray. I also didn't have my glasses on so I figured there must be some mistake.

Turns out, it isn't. Gray hair seemed to surround me - to mock me. I never thought I'd be this kind of guy, but I don't handle getting older well. I know I don't qualify as "old" - not by a long shot. But I've had a very enjoyable last five or so years. Childhood and adolescence wasn't kind to me, so being a young, post-missionary Mormon was pretty sweet.

To get to the point, I think dealing with age and death is where a lot of Church members have me beat. I'm the kind of person who says living is a lot more important than believing, that life is short so make the most of it, and that the here and now is a lot more appealing than the hereafter. So I find, unlike most faithful Church members I meet, that I don't deal well when pondering old age or death. I like living and what life has to offer. And my inherent skepticism means I can't be all that confident of where (if anywhere) I'll be headed when I give up the ghost. Getting old is pretty much the one thing we're all guaranteed, so it seems silly to fret over it at all. And the rational person in my mind tells me that very thing. But I still find I do it.

So, any advice for a young fellow who hasn't the wisdom, experience, or mind to deal with the inevitable in a very thoughtful way?


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Will I be a D-cup in the Resurrection? 

by NA
Confession time: I am a vain, vain man. At the same time, I take terrible care of myself and am not a particularly sharp dresser. So, you can imagine how deep my dissatisfaction runs. But all that is about to change: I am going to have cosmetic surgery. No, really -- next week, Sumer and I are flying to Vancouver, where we will both have Lasik eye surgery, following which, we will be spectacle-free. Hurrah! Napoleon Dynamite becomes Dirk Benedict.

There are some practical benefits to having this type of procedure -- no more glasses means that my vision, most likely, will be better than with lenses, including my peripheral vision; I'll be able to see underwater; to run without the bouncing of the frames; to make out with hot girls (such as Sumer) without the annoying clunk sound of glasses-hitting-girl, or worse yet, the horrible clank of glasses-on-glasses. But at the heart of it all, it's a vanity issue -- no more four-eyes, which I've been since 4th grade (I remember it to this day, dancing to Disco Duck, woefully aware of my lot in life). I've been sensitive about my glasses for a long time, and so has Sumer.

My religion offers me little advice regarding the advisability of cosmetic surgery, whether it's with or without any practical benefits. Is this surgery making my body more perfect? Will the incisions in my cornea be raised with me in the Resurrection? Alma has as good a description as anyone's: "the spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time..." But this doesn't really tell us much about the nature of our resurrected forms. What is the "proper frame" for our bodies? We believe that our bodies will be made perfect -- does that mean we all get that 20/20 vision we long for? Will we no longer be lactose-intolerant? Will we be taller, stronger or (as my title suggests) more well-proportioned? In other words, does the resurrection serve to correct things perceived subjectively as imperfections, or does the resurrection work to some external standard of perfection?

This issue isn't as peripheral as it might sound, because our notions of a physical resurrection, together with LDS belief in a corporeal God, make our notions of heaven and perfection a little different than the average Christian's. Can we conceive of a God that can't eat spicy nachos or that is a little on the short side? Even worse, do our concepts of God's perfection require him to be anglo and bearded -- and if so, does our definition of perfection require us to be anglo? (and bearded -- better get that Beard Card, ye BYU-ites!) Perhaps we need to be a little more disciplined in LDS culture in how we conceive of perfection, and steel ourselves for the possibility that perfection may not mean the absolute resolution of self-conceived imperfections. That's the problem when someone else makes you perfect -- you don't get to decide when you've reached perfection! In the meantime, I'll be doing a little weight training so that I can fill out those heavenly robes a little better.


Saturday, August 14, 2004

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Family Reunion 

by Kristine
So, for those of you who've been holding your breath...

I talked (a little) about BCC at the Sunstone symposium yesterday, in an exceedingly weird session titled "Internet Mormons vs. Chapel Mormons." It was mostly (I think) meant to explore Dr. Shades's contention that the Church is in imminent danger of schism because people are being exposed to uncomfortable facts about Mormon history and doctrine on the Internet, and are thus forced to discard simplistic "Chapel Mormon" beliefs about the infallibility of prophets, the relentless glory of church history, etc. So Dr. Shades laid out his theory in extreme and argumentative terms, was rebutted in similarly extreme and argumentative (though much more cogent) fashion by Michael Ash (of FAIR), and then it was my turn.

I had mistakenly believed that the session was to be more of a discussion, and less a serial presentation of short papers, so I didn't have a prepared statement, and included lots of ums and uhs in my rambling 5 minute remarks. I was a little flummoxed by the tone of the discussion preceeding me, and ended up in the strange (for me) role of Molly Mormon peacemaker, trying to lighten the mood in the room. In short, I think I seemed dumb, but really nice :)

I changed my mind about a couple of things over the course of the discussion. I still think that the Internet will not (at least not very soon) have a big impact on how the average Mormon in the pews (acknowledging, of course, that no such person exists!) perceives the workings of the institution. However, I do think it makes it somewhat more likely that people will encounter unpleasant facts about church history, difficult doctrinal issues, etc. in an unfriendly context--it's hard to get a sense of just what people's agenda is on the net. (Dr. Shades, for instance, seems somewhat less antagonistic to believers on his site than he appeared to be in person.) I think the Church needs to respond to this somehow, either by officially discouraging people from learning more about Mormonism online, or by creating more opportunities for people to grapple with the difficulties of Church history, doctrine, etc. in a friendly and believing context. (Obviously, I favor the second solution, and look forward to the Sunstone-enriched Sunday School manuals(:)) Correlation has had the (I think) unintended effect of pitching our Sunday School and Relief Society lessons to the lowest common denominator, and making it impossible to confront difficulties of any kind during the three-hour Sunday meetings.

The second thing will seem to contradict my hope that we could tolerate more controversy in Sunday School (it's always good to contradict oneself immediately!). While I usually think of myself as someone who enjoys a bit of contention, I was really uncomfortable with the level of animosity in the exchange between Dr. Shades and Michael Ash--it may have been just the nature of the forum, or the particular personalities of those two, but I'm less likely than I was before to think that it's a good idea for Mormon apologists to go toe-to-toe with antis. I'm not sure that many readers will follow the intricacies of their arguments, and the vitriol really does seem antithetical to the spirit of the gospel. (I think I might feel differently about academic exchanges in refereed journals, but at the level of "so-called intellectuals" with no degrees in ancient languages or philosophy of religion, it was just plain ugly.)

The best part of the day was meeting D. Fletcher and John Hatch. D. was much as I'd imagined him; John was not at all the small, wiry rock-climbing type I had pictured! Since I've already confessed to betraying my commitment to resisting gender-essentialist stereotypes, I'll also say that (as stereotypical females are supposed to) I *really* liked having embodied conversations with them, instead of just seeing cold words on the screen.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Am I Immoral? 

by Aaron B
I have a confession to make: I am a liar. I have deliberately told an untruth about a fellow human being, with the intent to convince my listeners to believe something unsavory about that person and to affect her negatively. Shame on me? You decide. The story that follows has virtually no connection to Mormonism, other than that I happen to be Mormon, the Gospel demands that we not bear false witness against our neighbor, and I did so anyway with reckless abandon. All you amateur Mormon ethicists out there are invited to weigh in on my actions and call me to repentence ... or not.

One fine afternoon about two years ago, I pulled up to the drive-through at Jack-in-the-Box. I don't particular care for Jack-in-the-Box, but as it was down the street from my wife's work, I often bought something to eat there. I frequented the place enough that the Latino employees at the drive-through window knew me by sight, and would always smile and say hello. I would do the same. On this particular occasion, a homeless black man, probably in his late 70's, walked past my car, passively looking for a handout. I politely brushed him off, as I often do in these situations. A few moments later, as I was thinking about whether to order the buttermilk ranch or the Red Hot sauce with my chicken strips, I was suddenly jolted out of my stupor by a loud, caustic stream of racist vulgarities unlike any I had ever heard before. I turned around and witnessed the following scene: The black man had approached the car behind me, soliciting some change. The trashy-looking woman driving the car lit into him with the most obscene tirade imaginable. "Get the f*ck away from my car you f*cking n*gger!" she screamed. A continuing stream of F-words and N-words continued to flow from her lips. The volume and intensity of her bile was mind-blowing. I can honestly say I have never heard such a shocking display of hateful, racist filth in my entire life. No R-rated movie I'd ever seen could compare. No episode of Jerry Springer could ever come close (even without the censors). Even that Korean woman in testimony meeting couldn't hold a candle to this crone.

The black man's reaction was interesting. He was clearly shocked by the treatment he received, and I got the impression that he probably hadn't been talked to like this in a very long time. His initial, visceral response was to lunge at the car instinctively, as if he wanted to strike out at the window, but he stopped himself before he actually did so. Keep in mind that this was a very elderly gentleman, so I doubt he was prone to physical violence as a rule. The woman was unphased, and continued her racist tirade unabated.

I immediately became furious. Despite the occasional moral indignation I display on the internet, people who know me in real life will tell you that I rarely get visibly angry, if ever. I am known for my rather narrow range of emotional states: jaded, sarcastic, and more sarcastic. Thus, I hadn't felt this way for as long as I could remember. It was like I was in a Charles Bronson movie, or I was sitting in Harrison Ford's buggy, watching the tourists pick on the Amish guy. I was pissed.

The black man decided to ignore his verbal assailant, and he walked past my car again. I decided to lean out the window and hand him 2 dollars. He asked me if I'd just buy him a couple tacos instead, which I agreed to do. This gesture earned me an earful from the woman behind. "F*cking Saab-driver!" she yelled, over and over again. (Ouch - "Saab-driver"! What a put down! She really got me good with that one!). This gave me the opportunity to do something I don't think I've done since highschool. Down went my window, and up went my middle finger. (Juvenile and crass? Perhaps, but it somehow seemed appropriate at the time.)

I drove up to the pick-up window, paid for my food, handed the gentleman his tacos, and proceeded to drive off. The placement of the drive-through window and the exit at this location was such that I had to double back 180 degrees to leave the parking lot. In doing so, I passed right by the drive-through window again, just as the woman in the car was picking up her food. With my window down, I was able to hear her conversation with two Jack-in-the-Box employees. In a very irate tone, she was demanding to speak to the manager, in order to complain about the black man that had been "harrasing" her in the parking lot. She insisted that the restaurant see to it that he was kicked off the premises.

At this point, I snapped. I stopped my car, got out, and walked up to the drive-through window, placing myself squarely between the window and the woman in the car. I proceeded to talk to the employees in Spanish. (I'm as white as white can be, so it always comes as a shock to Latinos when I can speak their language. I figured my speaking Spanish might help my credibility in this instance.) I indignantly explained to the employees that they should pay this woman no heed, as she was a lying, hateful "racista" whose only motivation was to malign an innocent black man and to provoke an ugly incident. But I felt like this wasn't enough. I needed to say something else, to really dissuade the employees from having sympathy for her duplicitous claims. And then it happened ...

I decided to lie.

I continued addressing the Latino employees, but I switched to English, making sure that the woman in the car would understand me. "And that's not all," I fibbed. "This lady also made some ugly comments about you! After insulting that black man, she started mouthing off about how the "damn, dirty Mexicans" at this restaurant should be sent back toTijuana! So you guys decide if this is someone you want to take seriously." The employees looked at the woman and then looked at me with wide-eyes. They're faces seemed to turn white.

I shot a knowing glance at the woman in the car myself, gave her a big cheesy grin, and walked off.

Aaron B


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

'Dear Abby' , the anti-Mormon 

by NA
A recent column by Ms. Buttinsky herself threatens the very core of LDS dating relationships! Now I have the "Will I Wait For You" bit from Saturday's Warrior stuck in my head. At least she encouraged young Johnny to go on his mission...


Monday, August 09, 2004

Confessions of a So-Called Intellectual 

by Mathew
I don't consider myself an intellectual because by now I've known too many genuine intellectuals and I know that they are in a different class. They are almost always people I admire, not just because they are well read, erudite and full of interesting ideas, but because of the way they lead their lives. In Russian the phrase used to describe this is "lives intelligently"—an idea that has captured my imagination for nearly a decade. To live intelligently is something that I aspire to, but from which I am very far from achieving.

I honestly cannot ever recall having ever referred to myself as an intellectual. That said, I have to admit that I have been called intellectual by acquaintances (not recently—but five or six years ago) and am certain that someone, somewhere took the liberty to call me an intellectual. So here I am—a self-confessed so-called intellectual.

Being a so-called intellectual isn't bad—you still get to eat the crumbs that have fallen from the intellectual feast going on just out of reach. You waste endless hours reading the Wall Street Journal, the Times (as we like to call it), The Economist and, most deliciously, The New Yorker. Best of all, you don't actually have to write anything—leave that to the real intellectuals. Instead of writing, it has been my experience that so-called intellectuals gain an expertise in something useful and make a good living (as opposed to our true intellectual cousins).

Along with the good, however, comes the bad. So-called intellectuals are sometimes singled out in church talks and are often viewed as a subversive element. I agree that I and my fellow so-called intellectuals are, as a group, not subversive. Unfortunately being thought of as such for so long has led some to fancy themselves as fringe church members who don't really fit in. And I believe that for people of my generation, this causal link is a fact that has resulted in apostasy as some so-called intellectuals have taken the bait that was placed in front of them and left the church in righteous indignation over the three Ps: polygamy, patriarchy and pop synth. But most of us are happy to be in the center of the church—our spiritual home, testimonies intact, where we continue to wonder about interesting bits of church history and gay marriage.

Our intellectual dilettantism bothers some people who use self-serving rhetorical devices in an attempt to rein us in and otherwise make Sunday School the boring slog it "ought" to be. This usually takes the form of name-calling—often with a hyphen stuck somewhere in the mix: so-called intellectuals, pseudo-intellectual trappings, self-important etc-etc-etc.

We probably deserve at least some of this. Unfortunately the net is often cast too wide and true intellectuals are caught in it. Perhaps it is not the villain-rhetor's intent. Perhaps the speaker-monster added an obligatory reference to 2 Nephi 9:29—but many of our brothers and sisters, unused to nuance that so-called intellectuals value so highly, indiscriminately apply it to anyone saying unfamiliar things or otherwise using the English language for effectively communicating. This is where I have to object—for there is such a thing as a true intellectual. There is even such a thing as a faithful intellectual who earnestly seeks to learn and share gospel knowledge—and such people deserve better.


Saturday, August 07, 2004

Are Mormon Men Repressed? 

by John H
In the wake of Jennifer's great post on the supposed repression of Mormon women, I thought I'd ask if Mormon men are repressed. As a Mormon man, I've certainly never been confronted the way Jennifer was and told that I'm repressed. On the surface, it looks like we've got it pretty sweet.

But deep down, are we not allowed to participate in the world of maleness? Let's look at some facts:

• Mormon men can't drink beer, arguably a strong part of American male identity
• Mormon men generally are discouraged from watching shoot 'em up, profanity laced movies, with all the scantily clad women you can shake a stick at.
• Some Mormon men might even be denied the sacred joy of watching football on Sunday
• With the emphasis put on families, Mormon men may not feel like they can spend evenings or weekends with "the guys"
• Mormon men may suffer an identity crisis - encouraged to weep during Sacrament meeting, yet discouraged from weeping during Steel Magnolias
• Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, with the Church's emphasis on industry, hard work, providing for oneself and family, Mormon men may be denied that trait so beautifully embodied in Doug Heffernen, Homer Simpson, and others: Laziness

Of course, there's mostly sarcasm above, but I truly am interested in the differences between Mormon men and "wordly" (I hate that word!) men. I've actually heard one ex-Mormon argue that Mormon men are emasculated by the Church - just a teensy bit extreme in my opinion. But are there male rights of passage or other aspects of maleness that Mormon men are missing out on that they shouldn't?


Thursday, August 05, 2004

Liberate me! I'm repressed? 

by Unknown
A few weeks ago, while traveling, I met an American woman with whom I had a lengthy conversation. She was in her late 50s or early 60s. She wanted to know about my work so we discussed philosophy for awhile among other things. I quite enjoyed talking to her. But later that evening I mentioned that I had met people at church who let me stay in their homes for free. She immediately asked me what church I attend. When I told her I am Mormon she was quite shocked. She asked me how I could be so educated and part of such a sexist church, thus allowing myself to be repressed. I said, "Women are encouraged to get as much education as they can and I'm not repressed." She told me that yes, I am repressed. When I asked her how I am repressed she just said, "Well, you have to admit that you belong to a sexist church." I said, "the church is patriarchal, yes. But that doesn't make me repressed. How am I repressed?" Our exchange continued in this way as she got increasingly more distressed and insistent. She never explained to me in what ways I am repressed. She simply insisted that patriarchy and conservative religion necessitate my repression.

She asked me how I could be politically liberal and belong to a conservative religion. I told her there were many liberal mormons, that one could be socially and politically liberal while being religious. This is the point at which she lost control of herself. She said "How can you be so educated and a philosopher and believe in such superstitions? Yours is a superstitious religion. Are you a true believer? Do you really believe that God spoke to Joseph Smith and all of that?" I responded, "Yes, I do believe it. I've questioned the doctrine and studied it and don't find it contrary to reason. So there is no conflict between my religion and my academic work." Her face got red and she screamed, "That's scary. I find that truly scary!" Then she stormed out of the hostel kitchen.

This whole exchange lasted about 30 minutes. Every time I challenged one of her assumptions she changed the subject instead of answering my questions. By the time she left, I found myself extremely angry and insulted. Though I kept my cool with her the whole time. I sat down at the table to finish my meal and smiled at the smirking German. Then the woman came crashing back into the kitchen saying, "The sad thing is that they are truly beautiful people, the mormons. So are most fundamentalist Christians." I smiled at her and then walked out.

In order to resolve my anger I had to recognize that she had issues with herself, not with me. Even though I felt insulted, she really fought against her own fears. My faith threatened and scared her. At one point she mentioned that she grew up in the Church of Christ and knows what it's like for fundamentalist women to be repressed. So at some time in her life she turned her back on her family's traditions. The fact that an intelligent, educated, liberal woman could believe in a religion like mormonism, which she obviously equated with all fundamental Christianity, rocked her worldview. She must hold a fundamental belief that religion is only for the ignorant women. Once I realized this, my anger turned to sadness for her.

There are at least two issues for discussion here. Are Mormon women repressed? And if so, then in what ways? I don't feel repressed but maybe, as the woman insisted, I am repressed and just don't realize it. I'm also single and childless so maybe I have escaped the repression that comes with having a family. Wives and mothers, are you repressed by your families?

The other issue is the perceived conflict with intellectualism and faith/religion. This woman could not accept the existence of a religious and educated woman. She obviously absorbed the Enlightenment ideals of rationalism over 'superstition' or faith. Our popular culture is similarly steeped in such ideals. So, lets explain away this false conflict or justify it as a real problem or rant about it or whatever else your hearts desire.

Jennifer J

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Cold Sins or Liahona vs. Iron Rod in Disguise? 

by Christina
I recently read an address given by the Reverend Canon Dr. Lauren Artress in which she discusses the work of the twelfth-century abbess, Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard had been pledged to the Church as a young child and served as a nun the remainder of her life, but it was not until she suffered a severe and prolonged illness in her 40's that she developed a deep relationship with God, began to see visions and to tap into her wellspring of creativity.

After recovering from her illness, the abbess wrote of how the Church had missed out on our spiritual connection to the universe and had developed a doctrine of a Christ as a policeman of small sins rather than a loving God of creation. Reverend Artress interprets Hildegard's ideas:

The Christian tradition divides sins into two categories, warm sins and cold sins. We pay a great deal of attention to warm sins, sins of the flesh, and we ignore the cold sins, sins of the hardened heart. We covet our excessive resources, greedy and without care for those who have no food or shelter.

Now, I find this to be a criticism of us in the church today as well -- and the practice of religion in general through the ages. I think it is much easier to follow rules than to follow our hearts. Thus, we learn as converts to religion and as children raised in the church to follow particular rules and to progress in life through developing obedience to particular commandments. These are the warm sins. Many people operate as if they can be a ticket-holder to the celestial kingdom (whatever that means) by abstaining from coffee, tea, alcohol, cigarettes, sex outside of marriage, by paying tithing, attending church and staying awake for some portion of the meetings. These things are not taught to the exclusion of listening to the spirit and developing deeper meaning in religion. However, I think we are encouraged by our leadership and by our own lack of self knowledge to stop at this level of warm sin and not move on to breaking through our cold sins.

There is a lot of value in not committing warm sins, so don't mistake this post for a justification for cheating on our taxes or having a sip of wine. My theory on sin is this: many commandments (warm sin ones) give us the guidance we need in order to have open minds and loving hearts. They eliminate unhelpful distractions and place a modicum of responsibility on our shoulders towards our fellow persons. But they don't go far at all in teaching us how to be truly loving and giving in the way that we must be in order to come to Christ. Of course, it is not meet that we be commanded in all things. Is this just something we have to figure out in our own hearts?

The question I am putting is, not why are there warm sins and cold sins, but why do we care so much about warm sins? I guess I am reacting to the perceived self-righteousness of many "religious" people in this world who may abstain from certain activities associated with warm sins, but whose hearts are cold to the needs of humanity. I don't like it. Is this a problem, or am I just too much of a Liahona Mormon?

Sunday, August 01, 2004

What Does Testimony Meeting Really Mean? 

by Dave
This Sunday, my ward offered the usual cast of stock characters for an LDS testimony meeting: the returning wayward member who confessed to a variety of heinous but unspecified sins; a couple of grandmotherly types who discussed their ailments or those of other family members; a couple of auxiliary leaders sharing the good things happening with this or that person or group; a dynamic Polynesian sharing an aggressive but touching testimony; and of course a dutiful high priest or two expounding on the temple as a metaphor for life. Why do we do this once a month?

Wearing my critical hat, I might offer that it is a simple meeting to plan--no planning at all, in fact. Insecure leaders obsessed with apostasy are no doubt thrilled with a monthly meeting where we all get together to remind ourselves how true the Church is and how wonderful and inspired our leaders are. And the willingness of leaders to support a meeting with no agenda and no programmed message is symptomatic of the stunningly low quality of Mormon sacrament meetings overall. Meetings can be dull or boring but leaders simply can't grasp the idea that a meeting can be "too dull" or "too boring." That would imply a need to change something.

Wearing my faithful hat (I still have one), I would offer that it's at least a departure from the normal routine of dreary talks. These days, real people and their joys or problems seem rather more interesting that the ad hoc doctrines that infest Church manuals and high council talks. And from time to time there are moments of high drama that just don't happen anywhere else. It's not quite Jerry Springer, but then it's not phony either.

While it may be an easy meeting with no agenda, it's also true that allowing any member of the congregation to come share their thoughts from the pulpit is an unusual vote of confidence in the general membership. I suspect there are Evangelical churches where members of the congregation are invited to come share their conviction that Jesus is love and the Bible is true, but in many denominations the average member would have to climb past a pack of deacons, noviates, and lay ministers, then wrestle the microphone from the iron grip of an aging minister to address their message to the congregation from the pulpit. Could the Mormon tradition of an open mic on fast Sunday actually be a vote of confidence in the average Mormon sitting in the pews?

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