Overwhelmed by Indifference

For whatever reason, Elvis Costello seems to reflect my mood these days. I’m not sure what that means, but some of his lyrics again captured my mood:

Some of my friends sit around every evening
and they worry about the times ahead,
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
and the promise of an early bed.

I have been thinking a great deal about  how some people really believe we are in the end times, in a battle for human souls, and that at some point Armageddon will come and the end of the world. One of my readers posted in response to my essay on Dallin Oaks’s recent speech:

The warning is, put on your seat belts, we’ve got some major turbulence ahead, the same kind of moral/spiritual turbulence you can read about ad nauseum in the Book of Mormon. For the real issue here is not gays but the basic question of whether we’re a secular or a god-fearing society. The balance is fast shifting toward secular, which will bring us the same civil war, outside invaders, secret combinations, and natural disasters that the Nephites faced when they turned from God in this promised land. Only with today’s technologies, this time it won’t take 1,000 years to fully play out…

Similarly, someone I know from the MAD board routinely speaks of critics and unbelievers in terms of ravening wolves who are trying to destroy God’s true church. He says that some of us are unwitting tools of Satan, but we’ll drink of the wrath of God soon enough.

Obviously, this kind of melodramatic warrior imagery isn’t unique to Mormonism. Even the most benign Methodists sing “Onward, Christian soldiers! Marching as to war!” But on the other end of the spectrum are the violent jihadists who sing “You have the atomic bomb, but we have suicide bombers.”

Belonging to a religious group makes one feel part of something bigger and grander than a single life. It feels wonderful to be an instrument in the hands of God toward some larger cosmic purpose. Naturally, those outside the group are to be considered the Other, either to be pitied for not having “the truth” or disdained for “kicking against the pricks” and criticizing the movement. Mormons, for example, often speak of how they feel sorry for people outside the faith, who would be so much happier if they had the gospel in their lives. At the same time, they express bewilderment and often contempt for those who consciously decide to reject Mormonism. Such people, they say, are spiritually dead or hard-hearted. 

A similar, though far more extreme, dynamic is on display in David Rohde’s excellent account of his seven months of captivity at the hands of the Taliban.

My captors saw me — and seemingly all Westerners — as morally corrupt and fixated on pursuing the pleasures of this world. Americans invaded Afghanistan to enrich themselves, they argued, not to help Afghans. …

Pressing me to convert, one commander ordered me to read a passage of the Koran each day and discuss it with him at night. He dismissed my arguments that a forced conversion was not legitimate. He and the guards politely said they felt sorry for me. If I failed to convert, they said, I would suffer excruciating pain in the fires of hell.

At one point, a visiting fighter demanded to know why I would not obey. He said that if it were up to him, he would take me outside and offer me a final chance to convert. If I refused, he would shoot me.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I am not equating Mormons with the Taliban (though it is interesting that some ex-Mormons have been compared to Afghan terrorists, such as Tal Bachman, whom many apologists refer to as “Tali-Bachman”).

Rather, it’s the commonality of attitudes that I find interesting, and as I said, this attitude permeates pretty much every religious group: we alone have truth and are happy and fulfilling God’s plan.

Thus it’s natural for some people to see things in the stark terms of a war for the souls of humanity. They need to see every criticism of their beliefs as Satanic attacks on the truth. It’s much easier to dismiss a hateful attack than a legitimate criticism, but if you start from the premise that there are no legitimate criticisms, then you can dismiss every non-positive observation about your religion as anti-whatever you are.

Such an attitude would explain why some people are so offended by what they term “smooth-talking critics” who really just feign “niceness” as a tactic for spreading their hateful and evil message.

But in the end, the battle is being fought only in the mind of the believer. Many of us Mormons were taught from an early age that everyone outside the LDS church was watching us closely to see if we lived up to our faith. But it was shocking to me after I left to learn that no one was paying attention; no one cared what we did. Sure, they might think we were a little odd, but that’s about it.

And the church at large, although many of its members believe it is under constant attack from the media and others, rarely appears in the public consciousness. Mormonism surfaces as an issue only when the church or its members put themselves there, such as when Mitt Romney ran for president and the LDS church went all out to pass Proposition 8 in California.

No one cares about this alleged battle. I for one am overwhelmed by indifference. I don’t care enough about the LDS church or any other religion to attack it. I don’t care if I’m pitied or reviled for opting out of Mormonism. It just doesn’t matter much in the eternal scheme of things.

Of course, that’s just part of Satan’s plan, I suppose. He just has to convince us that nothing important is at stake, and he’s won the battle.  At least he has with me.

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23 Responses to Overwhelmed by Indifference

  1. Odell Campbell says:

    End of world worries keep the weak in the corral. It really is very transparent. What I see as disheartening is that so many of us are so easily corralled.

  2. Seth R. says:

    “Obviously, this kind of melodramatic warrior imagery isn’t unique to Mormonism.”

    I’d say it isn’t even unique to religious people, judging from the over-the-top rhetoric I’ve gotten all over the internet from the “new atheists.”

  3. Seth R. says:

    Nope. But neither have Mormons either.

  4. Odell Campbell says:

    No, but according to Oaks, the LDS church is entitled to certain constitutional protections which would make it immune from criticism, but the church does not afford the same rights to atheists.

    According to Oaks’ message the US Constitution only affords a protection to practice a religion – that there is no protection to not practice religion! And, according to Oaks, because the Constitution has a special amendment providing religious protection, the LDS church is entitled to extra protection from political reproach.

    The level of fanatic devotion in the LDS church is only tempered by Western norms. The difference between the Taliban and many LDS members ISNT the level of fanatic devotion, it is that LDS membership are restrained by Western norms and have higher educational levels than the uniformed and ignorant Taliban foot soldiers.

    What is scary about Oaks’ remarks, and the recent remarks by Holland, is that the LDS church is attempting to polarize their membership away from normal behavior by playing the us against the world card – which is exactly what Taliban leaders do.

  5. Odell Campbell says:

    Seth R: How is Oaks’ position stated in his now infamous BYU-Idaho speech different that the extreme Muslim position of Sharia law?

    See this:

  6. Seth R. says:

    Seeing as how I don’t know Sharia law, and nor do I trust random YouTube guy to explain it to me, I can’t say.

    If you’re looking for someone to complain about Oaks’ legal analysis to, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I found his legal position to be problematic myself.

    I’m just saying the Mormons aren’t really any different in temperament than any other US demographic I know of. I find just as much Taliban-style extremism on the atheist message boards as in Mormon circles. Your comment about social norms holding Mormons back applies equally to the atheist population, and any other population in America.

    I think if social norms broke down, you’d see a lot of ugliness coming from all corners of society – and not just religious folk.

  7. K*tty says:

    I think we forget to live in the day. Mormons are programmed to always prepare for the inevitable “badness” that is coming . And if you don’t worry about that, you can worry about where the scary kingdom you will end up in and if you will be with your family. And let’s face it, the odds of all your family together is marginal at best. Worry, worry, worry. It is the battle cry of the church. For me, what will be, will be. But since I have no crystal ball that tells me what will be, I am just going to enjoy my days each and every one of them. When they are over, they are over. I don’t see how one can live each day fully, always worrying about something in which they have no control, or can change. We can only change how we feel about something.

  8. Seth R. says:

    All the Mormons I know live very-much in the now and don’t think about the future any more than any other group of people.

    • Odell Campbell says:

      The Mormons you know are’t thinking about the future? The ones I know are fixated on the future. They are worried if the have enough food storage. is Johnny going on a mission, is Melissa going to be worthy to be married in the temple, am I getting family history done, do I have temple clothes for my burial, etc.

  9. Seth R. says:

    That’s right. The Mormons I know are very much in the here and now.

    Be that as it may… are any of the examples you mention without their parallels in any cross section of American suburbia?

    • Odell Campbell says:

      You tell me?

      I think worrying about the Second Coming, worthiness, outsiders is pretty unique among religious fundamentalists. How many worlds will I get to create? How many virgins does Allah have in store for me? When will god punish the wicked? I can’t wait for Jesus to come and again and destroy (those who don’t view the world like I do), I’d rather see my son come home in a coffin than unchaste, I am so proud of my martyr son, I hope to be taken up in the rapture. I know he’ll be left behind. It would be better to die than to allow yourself to be raped.

      Yeah, there are parallels, but not health ones.

  10. Seth R. says:

    What about the atheist parents that are obsessed with their son’s future choice of college? So much so, that they have a yelling match with each other over getting him into the right pre-school?

    You want to cherry-pick the worst of Mormonism to make your point, then I will feel free to cherry-pick the worst of any other demographic to show the same.

    I reject your thesis that this is a particularly religious failing.

    • Odell Campbell says:

      Please be more specific. I am not familiar with the “atheist parents” of whom you are refering. Is this horrid conduct widespread? Mormons are weird, sorry. I know when you live within the bubble of Mormonism, it seems normal to you. You want it to be seen as normal. unfortunately its not. I’m not cherry picking. Everything I stated above is correct, we both know it.

      I really mean no disrepect. But I learned much more about Mormonism, especially how it compates to other fundamentalist religions, and how it is perceived by mainstream people after I left it.

  11. Seth R. says:

    That’s right. I’m brainwashed Odell.

    Is this your hint that you don’t want to bother having to respond to me anymore?

    I do not want the behavior seen as normal or acceptable.

    What I do want is to challenge your rather odd thesis that this is really only a problem that religious people have to deal with.

    That is simply unbelievable.

  12. Odell Campbell says:

    No, I am always happy to engage in healthy debates. I don’t think all religion is harmful. But I do believe that fundamental religions which (1) few themselves as special or unique, (2) persecuted, (3) the only way to heaven, and (4) attached, all pose problems which are part and parcel of their belief system.

  13. Seth R. says:

    I think there are “fundamental” aspects of Mormonism (in the sense I think you are using the term).

    But I think it is reductionist to dump the entire religion and all its people into that category and then broadly claim – “they care more about some utopian future than they do about the here and now.”

  14. Odell Campbell says:

    I don’t Seth. I grew up Mormon, went on a mission to Argentina (where I was an AP), graduated from BYU, went to law school, served as a YM president, EQ President (during law school), was a HP Group Leader, two bishoprics, and a temple worker and I didn’t see a lot of concern about the world around me (except to look for missionary moments). The LDS church is concerned about the LDS church and not much else. To keep people separated the LDS church uses very fundamentalist tactics to keep people in line, and from questioning.

  15. Seth R. says:

    Yeah, yeah, I have Mormon-cred too.

    And so does everyone else on the internet apparently. First thing everyone wants to establish whenever they try to make unwarranted stereotypes about a group is how they somehow have the “inside-scoop” on what “it’s really like in there.”

    Well, I don’t dispute you find these types within Mormonism. But I do dispute that they representative of all, or even most of the Mormon population.

    The debate of whether the inside member of the group or the outside exile from the group is in a better position to see the group clearly is an unanswerable and circular debate that I’m not really interested in having-out here.

  16. Odell Campbell says:

    Sorry that Mormonism isn’t want you want to look like, but the fox found the grapes sour too. If you want to correspond or communicate, please feel free to contact me. odell.campbell@sbcglobal.net.

    I am always interested in a good debate. I have seen both sides and know the difference.

  17. Seth R. says:

    Yes Odell.

    I’ve been debating with Evangelical opponents of Mormonism for over two years now myself. I also debate with atheist ex-Mormons and have been doing so for just as long. I’ve read more critiques of Mormonism than most members will see in a lifetime. I’ve also read more FAIR articles than I care to think about. I’ve lived in the LDS Church my entire life.

    I lived much of it in the Mormon heartland in Utah. I got out of there because of certain cultural traits I didn’t care much for. I’ve seriously questioned Joseph Smith, and the modern LDS Church and reached my own conclusions. I hold many views about theology my own committed Mormon father (former bishop) is completely opposed to.

    I’ve seen plenty of sides of the issue, and I know just how little it counts for in my case. So don’t expect me to be exactly wowed by your credentials either.

  18. Odell Campbell says:

    I don’t wont you to be “wowed” by my credentials! You seem smart enough, just not exposed enough.

    If you need to discuss the issues, I get it. Good luck to your my friend. And I honestly mean that.

    My dad, also a bishop, died before we ever reconciled our differences – thanks for that LDS church. Made me grateful when I resigned when I look into the face of my ten year old son. I will never have to choose between my church and my son – he wins.

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