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The Mormon Shelf

August 17, 2011

bookshelfEspecially in Mormon contexts, I’ve heard a metaphorical framework for dealing with discomforting or cognitively dissonant information within the church. People say that the troubled individual ought put those issues on the shelf. So if you have some doubt, then even if your faith is threatened, you don’t let that bring you down. You put that troubling issue to the back of your mind, anticipating a day when you’ll have a resolution for the doubt.

I’ve even seen a post about prophets having shelf issues.

…the problem with this metaphor (and the reason that I suppose it is discussed so often in contexts of doubt — even though I don’t think it is exclusive to Mormonism) is that it doesn’t often go over so well. The issue is like an infestation, so the issue gnaws at the individual and then gnaws at the shelf itself. It rots, spreads throughout the wood and the books. Eventually, the shelf becomes too brittle to withstand everything it bears, and it collapses.

So, the shelf often is seen as a bad thing.

When I told my parents I was an atheist, my father advised me not to throw away things I had learned in my upbringing. He advised me to use what I could use, and put things I didn’t understand currently or didn’t find useful aside…because I might find them useful in the future, but if I threw them away for good, then I would never be able to benefit. I would be closing doors forever.

I rolled my eyes at what he was saying, but then again, I rolled my eyes at a lot of things he said. But I don’t think I forgot the advice.

I think the reason the shelf often gets a bad rap is because people don’t know how to approach it. It’s not standard library science; no one learns this kind of thing, and no one teaches it. Who would imagine needing to know it until they were in dire need of it?

9 dots puzzle

Can you connect all of the dots using four straight lines or fewer, without lifting your pen/mouse cursor or retracing over any lines?

People use the shelf to continue doing everything they were doing in the same ways they were doing them, while addressing different issues than the problematic ones they’ve always addressed. So they still are going to church, treating church involvement and church commandments in the same way that they were always taught to. These things are still sacred…unquestionable. They must be approached in a particular way. I don’t mean this in a bad way; it’s just how things turn out. Like how most people struggle with the nine-dots puzzle at first…one just doesn’t anticipate that one literally must think outside the box.

Instead of shelving activities, they shelve issues.

One of my brother’s friends started following me on twitter recently. I didn’t think much about it, but when my brother saw this friend in person the other day, the friend told him that she just couldn’t understand what religion I was. I’m so obsessed with Mormon issues.

I think my brother kinda gets it. Although he replied a bit sarcastically, he said, “He thinks it’s like being a Jew…where even if you aren’t Mormon, you kinda are.”

My mom doesn’t get it. She wonders why I post any of this stuff. Why I write any of this stuff.

A thought struck me. Yesterday, I juggled discussions at three blogs: Times and Seasons, Millennial Star, and Wheat & Tares. Actually, there were even more discussions I was juggling, but those were the discussions at believing blogs I was juggling. While the topics of discussion are not really central to what this article is about, I think they support a point I’m going to make. In the T&S and W&T posts, I’m engaging with a new approach to the Book of Mormon. I’ve put new books on my must-read-on-Kindle list. The prophet couldn’t get me that excited to read through the Book of Mormon but here are these bloggernacle posts.

And with the Millennial Star post, I am once again engaged in a discussion about community and boundaries…what is the Bloggernacle? (I’ve come quite a ways from when I first started blogging…now I am aware that the Bloggernacle isn’t this broad concept about Mormon blogging. It is a very proprietary and parochial thing. It is owned not by the Mormon blogging community but by specific individuals, and everyone who is invited to participate does so only at the pleasure of these individuals.)

Or what is Nothing Wavering? (For better or for worse, it seems like there cannot be merely one blog aggregator for faithful Mormons.) Or what is Outer Blogness? Can these groups play well together, or is it really better for us all to be separate? Or maybe the believers should team up against the nonbelievers? (That unfortunately seems to be something upon which many believers can agree.)

(As another aside, Bruce calls for…and Scott supports…”blogs responding to blogs” and cross-linking to other blogs’ posts. Maybe most other writers don’t do this, but most of my better post ideas come from playing around with others’ blog posts. If I don’t have a link to someone else in a blog article, then that post seems incomplete. [I have quite a few posts that seem thusly incomplete.] But I’m one of the nonbelievers, so I don’t count. Obviously. I see more cross-linking from Main Street Plaza to Bloggernacle posts than I do between Bloggernacle posts, but of course, that doesn’t pass Bruce’s muster, since it’s not “evaluat[ing] from within a Mormon view point” [again, people pretty much agree that ex- and post-Mos don’t have a seat at this table…and that’s ok. People are free to make their own categories.])

I think this engagement — even with blogs outside of Outer Blogness or with bloggers other than the other W&T permas — is important. But even more importantly, I think it defines my alternative approach to shelving and dealing with shelf issues.

What I shelved were all of those things that people traditionally keep. I did not shelf the issues;  I shelved activities. I use the shelf not to continue doing the things I’ve always done in the ways I’ve always done them, but to do things very differently while addressing the same issues I’ve always addressed. So, instead, I’m not going to church or treating church involvement and commandments in the non-lateral way I had always done.

And who knows; maybe this approach will prove to lead to healthier ways of engaging (and perhaps re-engaging) with the church than the other way ever has?

From → Dad Talk

One Comment
  1. I am aware that there is a lot of privilege in this position. Some people do not have the option of putting *activity* on the shelf. They don’t have that privilege to keep on good terms with friends and family members and be free in the actions they take. They don’t have the privilege to research many of these issues dispassionately, because many of the issues that afflict them are extremely personal.

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