An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for July, 2011

Conversion Story

As of last week, George and I are registered Republicans. It
wasn’t a huge change for us. We were never good Democrats. We only registered
as Democrats because we thought there ought to be two in Davis County, Utah. In
2010 we had signs for candidates from both parties on our lawn—not that it
helped either of them. We have no prestige with our neighbors. Our lack of
regular church attendance has convinced most of them that we are members of the
evil party.

The main reason we changed our party affiliation is that
we’re tired of being disenfranchised. In Utah the November elections are a fait accompli. The final election occurs
at the June Primaries—and Republicans restrict their ballot to members of the
true faith.

My voting habits will not change. I will still refuse to
support candidates who weep for the sanctity of the Constitution while
advocating repeal of the 14th and 17th amendments. I will
not vote for state legislators who show up at the state capitol with Glocks
strapped to their sides. I will not support candidates who use the slogan, “We’re
going to take our country back.” I will support candidates who offer money as
well as rhetoric to support public education.

Probably the biggest advantage to my change of registration
is that from now on we’ll get calls from Republicans instead of Democrats. It
will be far easier to turn down their requests for donations.

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Change of Heart

My aunt who has been blind and suffering severe dementia
since a major stroke last summer has been on blood pressure drugs, blood
thinners, and heart medication ever since. She has resided in a care center following
her initial hospitalization except for three weeks spent in a hospital
psychiatric ward for dementia patients to evaluate and prescribe for her
anxiety and hallucinations. Currently, she is in the hospital with acute
respiratory failure, urinary tract infection, and heart problems.

Both she and her son are ardent Republicans although neither
is prosperous, and both have loudly criticized health care reform or any kind
of assistance to the needy. The tab for my aunt’s medical treatment is picked
up by Medicaid.

A pollster on the evening news last week reported that
Republicans’ take on the current battle over deficit reduction versus
maintaining Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits now divides on an
income basis. Affluent Republicans prioritize deficit reduction while middle
class and lower income Republicans favor saving their benefits. I suspect my
cousin now has a different view on the need for Medicaid in modern America.

I’m in favor of reducing waste in government spending as
much as anyone. But what has puzzled me for years is relatives and neighbors (who
are not particularly affluent) quoting talk show hosts and politicians(who are extremely
affluent) about the fairness of tax breaks for the rich and the unjustness of
social programs for the poor.

An abstract for a Sunstone Symposium session scheduled for
August 4, “Why Do Women Fight Against Their Own Interests?” explains it. “Society
ends up shaping the very thoughts in our minds so that the world as it is seems
natural and normal, the end result being that many of us accept it without
question.”

Women aren’t the only group who often fight against their
own interests. Too bad humans can’t question the status quo until it impacts
them personally.

Mom Doesn’t Work Here

George cleaves to the notion that “the natural man is an
enemy to God.” I favor the Buddhist notion that humans are innately good.
Evidence for my belief is dog poop. Even though the number of U.S. households
sporting one or more dogs as pets has risen exponentially in the past couple of
decades, the amount of dog poop left on city streets has declined. Signs have
been posted in many communities ordering people to pick up after their pooches—even
threatening fines for noncompliance. Still, I’ve yet to see anyone receive a
citation for leaving their pet’s poop on the sidewalk or a neighbor’s lawn. When
New York City passed a law targeting animal feces as a health hazard and pooper
scoopers went on the market, most of us caught on that our pet’s waste matter
is our responsibility. Of course, kids who walk dogs are exempt from civilized
behavior. They still believe that Mom or some adult in the sky will clean up
after them and their pets.

I think it’s time to extend cleaning up to include ourselves
and our kids as well as our pets. An astounding amount of trash litters
American streets and public areas most of the time. Obviously, few cities have
the funds to hire full time clean-up crews to pick up our water bottles, candy
wrappers, even disposable diapers. And nature can’t decompose trash fast enough
to keep up with our habits. We need an anti-littering campaign with signs
posted in our cities and suburbs—possibly saying: “Pick up your own litter. Mom
doesn’t work here.”

My dad told me my ex-stepmother
used to criticize him for taking their empty cups and burger wrappers to the
trash can at their favorite fast food place. “Just drop it out the window,” she
insisted. “They hire kids to clean the parking lots. You’re taking jobs away
from them.” Now, my stepmother is an extreme example, but I often see people drop
the Styrofoam containers from their lunch out the window after dining in our
church parking lot or along a shady neighborhood street.

I don’t believe people who drop trash from car windows or
fail to pick up after themselves and their  kids following a soccer game are bad people. They
are predominately good people who just don’t realize the trash they leave won’t
magically disappear or be cleaned up by someone else. It’s time for a reminder:
Mom doesn’t work here.

 

I Know the Church Is True Because . . . .

Probably all religions, or at least all religions claiming
exclusive truth, create “proofs” to sustain the beliefs of members. Certainly
the early Christian Church and the Roman and Orthodox divisions into which it
split were keen on relics of Saints. I think some forms of Buddhism also
venerate relics. Scriptures, traditions, and stories are all used by various
faiths to support and maintain members’ beliefs.

The danger with stories, as with relics, is that time and
historical research often undermine their effectiveness. A once popular support
of Mormonism’s truthfulness was its rapid growth during the latter half of the
20th century. Scriptural evidence was cited from Nebuchadnezzar’s
dream of the stone cut from a mountain without hands which rolled downhill,
smashed heathen idols—scattering pieces far and wide—and then expanded to fill
the entire earth (easier to visualize with flat-earth geography).  Daniel told King Neb that the stone represents
the kingdom which God will set up to destroy all previous earthly kingdoms.

Mormons see their church as the kingdom of God and rapid
church growth as fulfillment of this prophecy. The problem has come with the
flattened, even negative, church growth of the past decade. Wards in many areas,
including our previous ward in Sandy, have shrunk, been dissolved, or combined
with others. Not a problem in Utah where members readily see new chapels and
temples sprouting up in new housing developments. But when our daughter and
son-in-law ‘s old ward in upper New York state was dissolved two years ago,
members with testimonies based on Mormon fulfillment of Daniel 2 struggled to
maintain their faith.

Persecution as evidence of Satan’s opposition to the divine
role of the church is popular in both official and unofficial Mormon discourse.
What Mormons overlook as they tell these stories of persecution is that, with
or without Satan’s help, Americans have a long tradition of persecuting those
of different religions –not to mention different languages and skin color. Mormons
have no monopoly on persecution. Baptists and Quakers who ventured into New
England in colonial times could expect legal harassment, imprisonment, and
physical assault—including torture and murder.

The Missouri persecutions of Mormons are a blot on the
American conscience, but Mark Twain’s writings—both his fiction and
autobiography—show that 19th century Missourians did not limit mob
action to Mormons. Persecution by a group of frontiersmen quicker to shoot than
to think falls short of proof of the divine mission of the Church.

How do we prove the Mormon Church or any other faith is
true? We can’t, of course. Religious beliefs are deeply personal. Does it
really matter if everyone does not share ours?

When our daughters were in high school, a rumor circulated
among seminary students that Val Kilmer, the star of Batman films, was joining
the Church. How exciting. If a popular film star joined the Church, it must be
true. As far as I’ve heard, Val never joined the Church—which may be a good
thing. Celebrity members often embarrass the Church. Better to base one’s
testimony on the still, small voice within than on reinforcement from without.

Friendly Divorce?

Our new home teacher decided to give us a lesson last month.
He dutifully opened his Ensign and
told us President Eyring’s message gave him some new thoughts about tithing. He
read a few quotes from the text and told us of the blessings he’s received from
paying tithing. George and I were uncomfortable. Even when I was a believing
member, I objected to the self-serving notion of paying tithing in anticipation
of reaping blessings.

When Brother deVowt paused for our comments, George said
that he and I have so many blessings we don’t ask for more; we just give
thanks. I agreed with our HT that generosity is a great virtue. I didn’t
elaborate on why I now choose to bestow my offerings elsewhere. We don’t care
to undermine our home teachers’ faith, but neither do we want to be proselytized.

At least our home teacher did not read the entire message
verbatim, then offer tearful testimony of its truthfulness as my Relief Society
visiting teachers did until I asked them to skip the message during their
visits. That request probably got me dropped from my own visiting teaching
calling.

I know George and I could have our names removed from the
rolls of the church and avoid contact with the faithful entirely, but we had
hoped to maintain a casual relationship with the church of our heritage. George
feels an attachment to the institution which has provided him with spiritual
experiences in the past. Neither of us wants to divorce ourselves from our
neighbors or place a possible barrier between ourselves and believing family
members.

Maybe we’re in the
position of a divorced spouse—grateful to be out of a relationship that wasn’t
working—but still bound by years of shared experience. Being good friends after
a split is a status few divorced couples achieve. It generally takes more than
a few years—and forgetting the past seems to come more easily to those who
leave than to those they abandon.

From the Pulpit: The Book of Jasher

Brother Knowalle adjusted the microphone to his height and announced the assigned topic for his sacrament meeting talk: Priesthood. His text, he
informed us, was the Pearl of Great Price—and the Book of Jasher. My eyes opened from the drowse induced by the previous speakers. Book of Jasher? Yes, I
recalled the mention of that book in the Bible—but it’s not in the Apocrypha. How had Brother Knowalle located it?

I opened my quad to Moses 6 as Brother K outlined priesthood linage from Adam to Noah. I followed his outline in my scriptures until he
informed us that Abraham was taught the gospel by Noah who also conferred the priesthood upon him. Information definitely not found in either Moses or
Abraham.

The story became more colorful than anything recorded in the standard works. Abraham went into a roomful of idols in his father’s house,
broke them up, challenged his father’s beliefs in said idols, and received a death sentence from the king. BK did not distinguish between data gleaned from
Mormon scripture and data from the Book of Jasher. To him there was no difference.

Brother K’s voice shook with emotion as he explained—also apparently from Jasher—the reason the Church could not baptize Africans and their
descendents before 1978. Apparently BK hasn’t heard of Elijah Abel.

BK did motivate me to look up the Book of Jasher online. In case Brother Knowalle or one of his clones speaks in your ward in the near
future, the following link will help you place the Book of Jasher in context.

Now, I’ve never agreed with the Church policy of limiting texts used for talks and lessons to the scriptures and Ensign, although I realize many Mormons believe anything heard from
the pulpit is official Church doctrine. I prefer being amused to being bored—and BK kept me more engaged than most sacrament meeting speakers do. But after last Sunday, I understand the wisdom in restricting speakers and teachers to Church-approved texts.

A possible alternative to limiting SM talks to rehashing General Conference addresses might be to insist that speakers identify non-Church
endorsed sources, tell the congregation the information they are presenting is not from official publications, and let their listeners decide how much to accept. The problem with that is: How do you get people like Brother Knowalle to admit their pet source of information does not have official sanction?

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