An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for July, 2012

Not “Us” and “Them”

After our last family get-together, our Mormon daughter suggested that at our next gathering, we have a group discussion on prayer. Her kids have noticed, of course, a difference in how our evangelical son and his family say grace before meals. Wart and his family clasp hands while Wart addresses “Dear God” without Mormon prayer language—“thee,” “thou,” and “thy.”

I rather like the practice of holding hands and addressing God as a personal friend while giving thanks for daily sustenance; however, I understand that Lolly’s children are puzzled at what, to them, is unorthodox prayer ritual.

I told Lolly that her dad and I have no problem with non-Mormon prayers and suggested she might invite Wart to share his thoughts about prayer with her kids they next time they meet. Researching forms of prayer found in other religions sounds like a worthwhile Family Home Evening topic, and I think Lolly will address the issue there instead of at a family reunion.

I’m glad our grandchildren from both families are being exposed to prayer from different faiths within our family circle. Learning that people they love and respect belong to churches different from their own prepares children to live in a world of many religions—and no religion.

Our grandchildren also have the benefit of interracial family members. Loving a brown-skinned aunt and Afro-coifed cousins will keep those of strictly European heritage from culture shock when they encounter children of other races at school. Our biracial grandchildren will grow up feeling comfortable in two cultures.

I hope our family diversity will prepare our grandchildren to live in the world Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned, and that they will grow up to be the kind of people who judge others “by the content of their character” rather than by their religion or skin color.

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Out of Touch Leaders

Check out my post “Out of Touch Leaders,”  on the-exponent.com  here.

Mormon Feminism–Not All About Priesthood

David Wong’s piece, “5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women” at cracked.corn.com is wit with the bite of reality. I rather suspect that part of Mormon feminine angst comes from the same source which Wong credits as causing male hatred of women.

Since early childhood American women, like American men, are fed unrealistic notions about their relationship with the opposite sex. As Wong points out, for men this leads to the notion of thinking of a beautiful, sexy woman as a reward for success. Since our culture is no respecter of persons, girls are also trained to see a person, in their case a well-heeled man, as the prize for being and looking good.

Expectations for both boys and girls are unrealistic. Beautiful women lose their looks with age despite diet, exercise, and surgery. And sexy-looking women are not nearly as interested in sex as the average male.

For women, the disappointment results from a severe shortage of men in the upper 5% income bracket. In Mormon culture, this reality hits particularly hard. From the time they can toddle, Mormon girls know their role in life is to become a wife and mother. Even pre-adolescent girls engage in Primary activities such as planning their temple weddings. Little encouragement is given to help girls develop interests that might lead to worthwhile careers. Lip service is paid to girls getting an education “in case something happens.” Standard procedure, however, is for young wives to drop out of college and take a low-paying job to help her husband achieve his goals. Postponing children until the wife has a chance is complete her education is generally frowned upon.

Of course, the Mormon model never worked for women who fail to marry—and that is considered failure in Mormon culture. The model also does not acknowledge the relatively high divorce rate—even among temple married couples. Today this model is unrealistic even for most married couples. Naturally, the model worked better when the economy was booming. In the current economy, well-paying jobs are less certain even for bright young men with degrees.

(Yes, I know, when Mitt is elected, he’ll quickly fix the economy—but what if he loses—or what if he wins and doesn’t have a magic wand?) But, I digress. I do think one segment of Mormon feminist angst is the feeling we’ve been sold an illusion. Young wives wake up to find themselves trapped with young kids, mounds of student loan debt, and husbands whose job prospects offer little chance of upward mobility.

Women in this boat love their husbands and kids, but can’t help wondering—Is this my reward for graduating from Seminary, serving as YW class president, and always wearing at least two layers of clothing?

Of course, Church leaders don’t deliberately mislead Mormon girls, but outdated programs fail to prepare girls for the simple fact that their future may not allow them the luxury of being a SAHM—even when they marry an RM in the temple.

My visiting teacher, D’Lemma, is a single mom with a six-year-old and a 3 ½ year-old. Her ex-husband’s grandparents have been supporting her and the kids. When I asked her future plans, she was vague. “I’ve done retail sales, a little accounting, some bookkeeping, and general office work. What I’d like is to find something I can do part time or at home.”

Somehow, I don’t see a successful single man looking for a ready-made family in D’Lemma’s future. I wish her Church training had prepared her to face the fact that she needs a plan to support herself and her children. D’Lemma is too devout to direct feminine angst at a world that doesn’t give women a fair deal economically or to a Church that hasn’t prepared her to function in the world we have. But she should.

Mindfulness and Civility

Congressman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, has a fix for incivility within Congress: Meditation.

Baltimore Public Schools instituted a yoga/meditation program for elementary students ten years. Teachers feel it has lessened fights as well as helped students academically.

Click here for more on both stories.

City Creek and Charity

Much has been said about the City Creek Mall on which the Mormon Church spent over $2 billion. Personally, I like the new mall even though I’m not much of a shopper—certainly not a high-end shopper. I love the bustle of vibrant cities. I recognize that cities, like people, decline with age unless given expensive renovation from time to time. Downtown Salt Lake City was in need of a makeover, and the Church was the only entity willing and able to do it.

Naysayers believe the money should have been used to help the poor. So far, I haven’t heard of any specific projects proposed. Certainly, the Church has a right to invest its money for a profitable return—and, by law, businesses owned by the Church are subject to taxes.

A recent piece in Business Week estimates annual tithing received by the Church at $8 billion. Of that, less than 1% (about $50 million) goes to humanitarian aid. Kaimi Wenger, in a thoughtful blog at Times and Seasons, points out that the online fact sheet from which Business Week took their information does not include monies spent on welfare aid, which would raise the total. Still, even if welfare aid were included, the total for Mormon charitable funding would hardly approach the 29% of annual income spent on charities by the United Methodist Church.

How should the Mormon Church spend its monies? I suppose, like any other organization, the Church should spend its funds in ways that support its goals. The Church has long had a three-pronged focus: Proclaim the gospel, Redeem the dead, Perfect the Saints. The lion’s share of Church revenue is spent on missionary work, temples, and Church Education—all of which further those goals. City Creek Mall probably fits into the category of proclaiming the gospel. Public image would suffer if the headquarters of the faith were located in an urban blight of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, and seedy saloons.

A couple of years ago, the Church added a fourth goal to its mission statement: Care for the poor and needy. Obviously, this goal does not yet receive equivalent financial support. Perhaps the Business Week article will motivate movement in this direction.

Please History: Repeat Yourself!

History gives me hope for the present—maybe even for the future. Reading Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples recently, I learned that after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, Europe enjoyed a lengthy peace.

Unfortunately, England squandered this opportunity to surge ahead in trade and manufacturing—and to promote the well-being of the working class. The Tory government was controlled by landed aristocrats whose aim was to protect the status quo—land and property rights. Government officials had little knowledge of industry and technology and no understanding of the poverty and squalor in which ill-paid factory workers and their families lived.

Britain’s economy was in deep trouble. The nation carried huge debt from their years of war. This was not helped when manufacturers succeeded in getting the income tax repealed—depriving the government of a large portion of  its revenue.

High food prices were caused by laws forbidding the import of foreign grains. Landowners benefitted from high food prices, but the middle class suffered and children of the working class often starved.

Whigs, the opposition party, had no plans for moving the country forward. Both parties feared uprisings driven by radicals who agitated for government reforms and better conditions for workers. Middle class voters supported a government which did not benefit them out of fear of radicals.

Except for the names and places, these problems sound familiar. The encouraging news is that Britain did not go down the tube 200 years ago. The ship of state managed to right itself politically and economically. Popular writers like Dickens and Thackeray stirred up public indignation over government corruption and the desperate squalor of the working class. Policies changed. Peaceful reforms were implemented. The country prospered and workers received a share.

With any luck, our country will overcome the current gridlock of polarization, and we will move forward for another century or two. Still, it would be comforting to have Charles Dickens around to point out the real issues.

End Goal of Religion

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi’s essay, “The Message of the Gita,”  gives me new insight into Christianity. A devout Hindu, Gandhi opens his essay by stating that he’s never believed the sacred Bhagavad Gita  is an historical account. For him, the story is an allegory, written to teach humans how to perfect themselves.

I like Gandhi’s refusal to let other people interpret scripture for him. He takes from the Gita what makes sense for him and ignores the passages about reincarnation and caste.

Gandhi sees the central theme of the Gita as, “renunciation of the fruits of action.”

 

You have a right to your actions,

But never to your actions’ fruits.

Act for the action’s sake

And do not be attached to inaction.”

                      (Gita 2:47—Stephen Mitchell translation)

I like the idea of right action for its own sake. Gandhi says this is possible only by overcoming attachment. Freedom from ego and from cravings for material possessions free a person to act without desire for reward.

 This idea differs quite radically from Middle-Eastern religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are based on rewards and punishments. God commands. He blesses those who obey. He punishes those who don’t.

  In these religions, blessings in this life and salvation in the next are a simple matter of cause and effect. The problem for me is that the world doesn’t work this way. Jesus taught this in the Sermon on the Mount: “. . . He (God) sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” That’s not a scripture I’ve heard quoted often in church.

 Probably most Christian religions teach the doctrine of original sin—that humans are born in a depraved condition and must be guided to civilized behavior. The Book of Mormon scripture, “the natural man is an enemy to God,” (Mosiah 3:19) supports this idea.

 Much observable human behavior in the world today tends to prove that many people will not behave in a civilized manner unless forced to do so. Religions that emphasize rewards and punishments no doubt help create stable societies. And yes, I know that people go to war with each other over religious beliefs. Still, I suspect the good done by religion outweighs the bad, although I don’t know of any research supporting that theory. The problem with delving into the effects of religion is that human motives are often mixed.

Rewards and punishments motivate many people. I don’t see churches that emphasize this kind of motivation giving it up anytime soon. But I do think church leaders need to keep in mind that the end goal is not doctrinal orthodoxy. The end goal should be helping people understand themselves and act in responsible ways to promote well being for themselves and others.

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