In praise of civility

June 24, 2008

I’m always amazed at what minor things can set people off into a rage. Today I stated the obvious, that the LDS church as an institution (and most of its members) stood on the sidelines of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. This would seem pretty noncontroversial. While Martin Luther King was being beaten and jailed, the LDS church was defending its exclusion of black men from the priesthood and warning that King and his movement were Communist-directed troublemakers.

But for saying that the church and most members were uninvolved in the movement, I was told that I have a “jaundiced worldview and bigoted agenda against all things Mormon,” among other similar expressions of hate.

I never have understood people getting so angry about religion. Any disagreement is seen as an attack, and even the most inocuous statement is seen as a vile distortion of all that is true and good.

This little exchange reminded me of how much I appreciate civil dialogue, even when the two sides are far apart. It’s certainly possible, but I find that the more time I spend around certain people, the less agreeable and charitable they become.

But I guess that with the openly hostile, you know what you’re getting.

Anyway, thanks to the posters here who have managed to discuss things with kindness and civility.


Religion Is Bullshit

June 23, 2008

I’m really going to miss George Carlin.

What if no one showed up?

June 23, 2008

A good friend of mine is an elders quorum president here in Utah, and he was talking to me about an idea he had for an “object” lesson in church: have people arrive for sacrament meeting to find that nothing is prepared; no speakers, no sacrament prepared, no chorister or organist. Nothing. Then he said he would let people sit awkwardly for 15 minutes or so and then talk about how the ward requires the participation of its members to function.

What spurred this lesson idea? My friend is frustrated at the lack of commitment and participation among members of his ward. Roughly ten years ago when I was in his shoes as a young elders quorum president, I noticed that the same small group of people were doing everything in the ward. If I asked for help in a service project, the same people always showed up. We used to joke that ward council was just musical chairs because the same people traded callings every few years.

To me, this problem is a sign of waning commitment and faith within Mormonism. I suspect that the experience of these two elders quorum presidents is pretty standard. As my friend put it, “Too many people are sitting in the foyer.” They are in the church but not of it. They attend their meetings and go to the activities, but they aren’t dedicated enough to sacrifice for their religion.

Of course, there are millions of dedicated and faithful Mormons around the world, but if our experience is at all representative, they are in the minority. And if the trend is toward less commitment, the future doesn’t look good for Mormonism, a religion that demands commitment if there ever were one. Oddly enough, many of the former Mormons I know are the type of people who were extremely dedicated (I know I was), whereas a lot of the active Mormons I know are the ones telling me that they don’t take their religion seriously and neither should I.

So, how is the church going to increase dedication and participation? I would submit that their current efforts aren’t working very well. What they seem to be doing is having more meetings and more guilt-tripping. If you are or ever were actively involved in Mormonism, you have sat through countless priesthood, leadership, and training meetings designed to help you be more effective and committed in your church work. The problem is that these meetings are by and large mind-numbingly boring and devoid of anything that would help you commit more of yourself.

I think this lack of dedication is what’s behind the current fad of “pioneer trek re-enactments” wherein teenagers spend a few days discovering just how miserable the handcart experience was for our pioneer ancestors. My two oldest children spent four days in Oklahoma for their trek, and both came home exhausted, sick, and sunburned. Neither described it as a faith-promoting experience, and in fact my son came home feeling like “miracles” are based on deception.

I don’t know what the church can do to fix things, but my guess is that if they keep on doing what they’re doing, more people will be in the foyers, and more will be gone entirely.

Stuck in My Head

June 19, 2008

Last night I was watching the film Snatch., and several times they played snippets of The Specials’ “Ghost Town.” I couldn’t sleep last night because the song kept playing over in my head, even though it’s probably been twenty years since I heard the song.

The song reminds me of my high school days, when Southern California rich kids and surfers were affecting the mod style of the British 2Tone ska movement. The song “Ghost Town” illustrates rather nicely the despair and pessimism of Thatcherite Britain at the time, and the contrast could not have been greater with the sunny optimism of early eighties America. But it was fashionable to put on a gloomy face along with the military overcoats and Ray Bans while riding a Vespa GS scooter.

As I was watching the video, it struck me that the mood aligns pretty well with what’s going on in the US right now: economic turbulence, political discord, and some rather disastrous foreign policies.

Of course the clothes and the hair are different.

What good is Mormonism?

June 18, 2008

Critics like me spend a lot of time talking about what doesn’t work in the LDS church and what isn’t true, but I suspect that most of us find a lot to admire in Mormonism. Here’s my list. What do you find that is positive in the LDS church?

– Focus on education. I grew up knowing I was expected to go to college, and I was taught in church and at home that learning is its own end. I’m grateful for that.

– Opportunities for speaking. I received a promotion back in Texas because I was the only person in my department who wasn’t afraid to speak in public. That comes from years of speaking and teaching in church, as well as missionary work.

– Work ethic. I was taught to work hard, and two years in Bolivia taught me how to do it consistently.

– Community. I always felt (and still do) part of a community of people who all wanted to serve God the best way we could.

– Appreciation for ancestors. I know a lot more about my ancestors and their lives because of the church’s emphasis on family history. It’s still one of my passions in life.

-Charity. I have been in so many people’s homes giving service, and I have had a lot of opportunities to make a real difference, such as in cleaning up after two hurricanes.

– The worth of souls. The church’s teaching that every person is a valued child of God has helped me try to treat others with kindness and compassion, no matter who they are.

– Commitment to truth. Mormonism taught me that finding and following truth is paramount in life.

Fault Finding

June 17, 2008

Someone I know has long chastised me for having an “uncharitable” attitude toward the LDS church and its leaders, and I have often wondered how much truth there is in that. I look back and think that I’ve tried very hard to be charitable and kind towards others, including my church.

In fact, I have kind of a major character flaw in this regard. I have a hard time imagining that other people don’t always want to do what is good and right. I sometimes think that, even in doing evil, people rationalize that they are doing what is right. It has taken a lifetime to stop fooling myself into believing the best about people.

So, as far as the LDS church goes, I expect the same thing: I think most church members and leaders are trying to do the right and good thing, and I’m surprised and disappointed when they don’t. But I try not to hold a grudge.

Ironically, the one person I am hardest on is me. I do hold grudges against myself, if that makes sense. When I make a mistake (and I make mistakes all the time), I really get down on myself and have a hard time forgiving myself. And when I screw up again, I forget that I even made an effort to be better.

This constant self-flagellation isn’t very healthy, and it took a near-suicide to make me rethink what I was doing. Since that time (almost a year ago), I have been better at forgiving myself and giving myself the benefit of the doubt. I know deep down that I am trying to do what is good and right, but I don’t always succeed.

What I need to do is to allow myself to fail and then get back up and do better the next time. I need to treat myself more “charitably.” Then I can work on being more charitable to others.


June 17, 2008

I heard this morning that the first same-sex marriages have been performed in California since the court ruling invalidating the ban enacted a while back.

I’ve heard all the arguments pro and con, but to my mind, if people want to solemnize their commitment to each other, that’s a positive thing, and they should be commended for doing so. The idea that gay people should be encouraged not to be in stable, committed relationships is absurd on the face of it.

So, in this brief post, let me congratulate those who have waited a very long time for this day.