An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Reading My New Book Group

I’m not sure how I ended up in three book groups this year. And I’m not sure how long the newest one will hang together. We are women of quite different backgrounds who connected at a writers’ conference. Laurel, who organized the group, is a retired English prof who oozes confidence born of years of success in the academic world. Thalia, a former newspaper columnist, oozes confidence born of privileged background and professional success. Both they and Leslie, a retired English teacher, are acquainted with prominent members of the Utah literati.

Somehow, I ended up being the first to choose a book. What could I choose that would appeal to these sophisticated women? I mostly read history and philosophy—books nobody else reads. Since all of us are writing memoir, I chose Krista Tippets’ Speaking of Faith, the account of her faith journey from Southern Baptist—to atheist—to defining her own idea of God and belief. Her book includes quotes from theologians, historians, and scientists describing their own search for meaning. Since Tippets doesn’t advocate any particular faith, I figured her book would be a safe choice for a group of varied or no religious belief.

Wrong.

Karma, who has a recent degree in English Literature, objected to Tippets’ rather sparse journalistic style—and her lack of presenting the reader with a conclusion about religious belief and practice. The discussion moved from Tippet’s book to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell’s work on religious myths. Karma, whose family background includes a strict, Finnish version of Lutheranism, asked me what my beliefs were. I said I had been a devout Mormon, but now don’t believe much of any particular religion—which probably puts me in the agnostic camp.

When Laurel quoted Jung and Campbell, Thalia asked how she reconciled her Mormon faith with these studies. Laurel gave the pat Mormon answers: The similarity of world-wide legends with biblical stories is because the Bible stories were told or revealed first, then carried to other cultures where they were altered. She added that religious ordinances are necessary to enter God’s presence and must be done with proper authority. Only the Catholic and Mormon churches claim to have that authority. Stopping just short of testimony bearing, she told us only one of these churches can be right.

I found it strange to hear Laurel defend Mormon doctrine with the same phrases I used for many years, but no longer believe. I’m uncomfortable with discussions of religion that involve devout believers. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I don’t like having to hide my emotional reaction to statements I find illogical.

Next month, our book does not involve religion. I hope the discussion will be less personal and emotional. If not, I may have to learn to shuffle cards (I’m pretty spastic), and replace book group with a bridge club.

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