A long time ago when I still went to church and was a good, righteous Mormon, this elderly gentleman in the ward (who was apparently really concerned for the welfare and well-being of Africans, as I recall that he delivered several winding testimonies in Fast and Testimony meeting about the spreading of the gospel to the beautiful souls in Africa) came up to me and complimented me on how righteous I was.
He said that he was sure that in the afterlife, I would become white and delightsome.
When I tell people this story, they are often offended. Or flabbergasted. They might be sorry I had to experience that. They might be embarrassed.
The funny thing is that I wasn’t really offended, or flabbergasted, or sorry, or embarrassed at the time. I don’t think it even registered in me. I may have even recognized the intention of a compliment, and thanked him. If I felt awkward, it was because I often feel awkward being complimented in general, not because the compliment was perverse.
But you know, maybe that’s one good thing about Mormonism. It gives for me the Beatific Vision, which for a person like myself is the glimpse of becoming White and Delightsome.
You probably have heard of the Infinite Monkey Theorem. The idea is that an infinite number of monkeys typing randomly at keys on a typewriter will eventually type a given text, such as all of Shakespeare’s works.
What about infinite SurveyMonkeys?
Unfortunately, there aren’t an infinite number of members of the church to fill out church surveys, and I think for a number of reasons, surveys like the church is running apparently to gain more insight onto attitudes about women (read: Ordain Women) probably won’t do anyway. But here’s the question:
Could a not-so-infinite number of SurveyMonkeys randomly picking at opinions eventually get a revelation on women’s ordination?
At Faith Promoting Rumor, smallaxe has written an article discussing the apologetics of care. This is not the first article to discuss a move away from the traditional sort of apologetics, as Seth Payne presented on pastoral apologetics at FAIR’s 2013 conference. (I thought I recalled some posts at By Common Consent or Times and Seasons with a similar emphasis, but I can’t find them now.)
The pastoral/care view reframes disaffection away from the intellectual issues (after all, there are plenty of people who know all the “problem spots” of Mormonism and yet stay) by situating it onto the social. Disaffection is not so much about finding out that the church isn’t true as it is finding out that the church doesn’t fit. From smallaxe’s post:
An apologetics of care seeks to reconfigure the context that induces feelings such as frustration, fear, and anger. It does not seek to remove these feelings since they serve important moral functions (frustration can signal, for instance, the fact that something valuable cannot be tended to); rather it seeks to validate these feelings through a process of sympathy (discussed below). An apologetics of care recognizes that people are relational beings seeking concern, comfort, and communion often before seeking an answer to a question. It recognizes that answers to intellectual concerns, provided without tending to the relationships they invoke, all too often fail to recognize the reasons for anger and frustration. The question of Joseph’s polyandry, for instance, isn’t simply a question about how a prophet could marry a woman who is already married to someone else and still be a prophet; rather it is also tied to our relationships with church leaders (why haven’t the leaders of the church discussed this more openly?) and/or our relationship with our spouse (will I have to share my spouse with someone else in the eternities?), among others. An apologetics of care seeks to recognize the fact of vulnerability—the things we care about most, our relationships with others, are by nature vulnerable to other forces in the world, but they are also vulnerable to our changing beliefs. Care apologetics is apologetic in the sense of decreasing the need for frustration and anger by eliminating the space of fear and loneliness. It provides reasons for people to stay by recognizing vulnerability as shared—that we care when someone else hurts, even if we cannot fully understand their pain.
I like this approach. Even though I understand that many disaffected folks would disagree with me, I think that many instances of disaffection ultimately are not about “the facts” as much as they are about more emotional or personal considerations. For example, with issues of gender equality, LGBT issues, racial issues, and so on, it seems clearer to me to understand that these are issues in terms of the church’s engagement with people. These aren’t intellectual concerns (although one can certain place them in an intellectual framework. Where I’d go one step further is to say that even an issue with translation methods or historical recollection isn’t so much an issue with the fact as to say, a sense of betrayal. A sense that an institution that was viewed as ultimately trustworthy just doesn’t seem trustworthy anymore. How can one have faith — in a sense of faith as loyalty, when one doesn’t find the thing the faith was placed in to be worth being loyal to?
This has nothing to do with the main theme of this blog. It is purely self-promotion (but since this is my blog, then no harm, no foul, right?)
Like many people, when I was in school, I had a hobby that I didn’t keep up very well with. For me, I studied music. I wasn’t all that good at it, for a number of reasons (I don’t know when people are supposed to learn music theory, but I definitely wasn’t). One thing I regret is that when my instructors told me, “Wow, you’re pretty good. You should get private lessons,” I was young, and dumb, and didn’t interpret it the right way. I thought that they were just trying to be polite while meaning something like, “You’re not very good, so you should get private lessons.”
Over time, I have come to realize that that’s not why people recommend private lessons. Rather, when people recognize some kind of raw talent that is being squandered through bad habits, that’s when they recommend private lessons.
I quit playing the sax later in high school, mostly because I didn’t want to do marching band anymore, mostly because I hated my sound and tone, but also, because I wanted perfect GPAs for the rest of my high school career, and band didn’t get that honors GPA boost. (Man, to be a dumb, naïve high schooler! [P.S., it didn't work anyway, because I kept getting Bs in math class.]).
So that was that.
Every time I’ve visited my parents, I’ve noticed my sax sitting in the corner of my old room, collecting dust from within its case. A few times during a vacation, I’ve pulled it out to practice a few pieces. Each time, I’ve put it back away.
Of course, my sound hasn’t gotten any better without practice.
The last time I visited my parents, I decided that I would take my old sax back with me and start practicing again. But how would I stay motivated? I bought a new mouthpiece, some new reeds, and some etude study materials. And I started practicing. Intermittently.
Part of the problem is that I didn’t (and don’t) like my sound. Much like with my art or writing, whenever I regard it, I am aware that it’s not as good as what I know it should be. But, to make things worse, the practice pieces weren’t all that fun (although I do like going through the pieces that I painstakingly studied for the all-region tryouts.)
When I was younger, I had the same problems. But I thought that my poor sound was because I had a poor instrument. Fortunately, I read enough online to learn that the instrument isn’t as big of a factor as one’s embouchure. And that a lot of technique could only be developed through time. I didn’t know what that could possibly mean when I was in school (and I certainly wasn’t the kind of person who would practice for even an hour each day, much less dedicate time to scales and long notes), and since I didn’t have a tutor, no one was telling me explicitly.
Now, hopefully, I’m a little more mature, so I’ve scoured the internet for links on embouchure, YouTube videos, and so on. The one thing I regret is that most videos don’t really show “before and after” approaches, so I can’t really tell which concept I’m not getting.
…still, slowly but surely, I think my sound is getting a little better (although I still can’t buzz a full scale on my mouthpiece, and if it weren’t for the YouTube videos, I would think that idea would be witchcraft). And, on top of it all, I’m more motivated to practice far more regularly. Why?
I’ve changed what I’m playing.
If you are reading this post, I want you to do something for me. Read the following quote that an evangelical Christian friend posted on Facebook, and then — without reading the rest of this post — think about how it makes you feel. What are your reactions? Here’s the quote:
To my secular friends: I understand that the beliefs of religious people can be bothersome, unpredictable and seemingly irrational. So I truly appreciate your tolerance of us and your ability to make accommodations around us so that we can maintain our personal integrity and live out our convictions. It’s not always easy, but your ability to live with people who see the world differently is appreciated. We can learn a lot from your example.
The reason I want you to think about your thoughts (perhaps even post them in a comment?) is because I want to know if I’m just overreacting. Reading more into this than I actually should be.
If all (or most) of you say, “This is a great comment!” then I’ll just stifle my negativity.
But…before then, let me post that I find something about this statement very troubling, and although I can’t quite figure out why, I think I have an analogy. Read more…
In my last blog post, I engaged with Jeff G’s post at New Cool Thang that attributes the deterioration and loss of so many Mormons’ testimonies to the adoption of the alternative ideology of “liberal democracy.” There, I wrote:
I think a lot of causes of disaffection are precisely because we live, learn, and work in a society with profoundly different values than the church espouses and the church’s values can’t keep up in competition.
It’s absolutely not a neutral matter. And for that reason, all the values systems don’t appear as equally interchangeable. But most folks are increasingly steeped in modern values and since the church cannot pull people out of external society, it’s an uphill battle.
For example, we increasingly live in a society (and absolutely prefer such a society) where women have equal participation and autonomy in school, work, etc., so the fact that the church doesn’t operate in step with feminist ideas puts it vastly in conflict with what we enjoy and appreciate in the rest of our lives.
It’s absolutely a values mismatch. But the church has to show why its values should be taken over the outside society’s.
I think that last line quoted is particularly important. Because today, an earlier (I didn’t even notice the article was from October of 2013 until I double checked) post by Jeff G at Millennial Star started circulating through many of the progressive and liberal Mormon Facebook hangouts. This post talks about the trojan horses of Mormon intellectuals. Whereas Jeff now speaks about the dangerous of the ideology of “liberal democracy,” Jeff’s earlier post relied upon the intellectuals’ adoption of a “culture of critical discourse” (or “CCD”).
In the post, Jeff details the aspects of CCD that he finds to be incompatible with Mormonism, and also details four manifestations (the “trojan horses”) where these incompatibilities are instantiated. Per Jeff, the CCD/intellectualism is incompatible with Mormonism because of Mormonism’s stance of priesthood, which Jeff defines as being “a tool which is specifically aimed at stifling criticism by certain people against certain people about certain things.” (To the contrary, the culture of critical discourse rejects the idea that “certain people” or “certain things” can be protected from criticism.)
(For whatever it’s worth, Jeff states that the CCD is not just incompatible with Mormonism on this point, but on any system where some folks (the “authorities”) have the “last word” while others do not, such as the military, court rooms, most work environments, and traditional church organizations.)
According to Jeff, the specific trojan horses by which intellectuals mask their incompatibility with Mormon orthodoxy are the overemphasis of personal revelation, the overemphasis of explicit revelation-tagging statements like “thus saith the Lord”, the overemphasis of the importance of church history, and the overemphasis of the fallibility of prophets.
Most of the liberal and progressive folks online responded negatively to Jeff’s thoughts, but as with the NCT post I covered earlier, I do not think I would disagree with Jeff. Instead, the issue I raised earlier remains ever relevant: why should the church’s values be taken over any other ideology’s?
Over at New Cool Thang, Jeff G has written a post detailing how views on how members of the LDS church can lose their testimony. He bases his comments on his own personal experience leaving the church. In one paragraph he writes:
With hindsight, I can say with absolute conviction that one does not simply lose one’s testimony, even if it genuinely feels as if that is what is happening. Rather, one actively – albeit uncritically – beats down and erodes one’s testimony. Through training and practice, we gradually chip away at our testimonies with the hammer of the liberal democratic values we are taught in school, on t.v. and in internet forums. As we choose to evaluate and navigate the world around us by the tools of liberal democracy rather than those of the gospel, the latter not only atrophy from disuse, but are purposefully displaced by the former in their relentless take-over and re-programming of our minds. I cannot say it emphatically enough: the tradition of liberal democracy is not neutral, passive or benign when it comes to our religious convictions or any other set of competing values. It is a god which is no less jealous or hungry for the souls of men (or women) than any other.
Although I would probably disagree on the details of what to call the value system of secular societies, I do not disagree with Jeff that many faith crises occur because of a values mismatch.
But I think that the church has an increasingly uphill battle in trying to inculcate its values in the membership.
Dan Wotherspoon has his latest two episodes of Mormon Matters up, and this time, the episodes are dedicated to James Fowler’s Stages of Faith. Dan holds the stages of faith extremely highly (as is evidenced by the fact that I have listened to several Mormon Stories podcast episodes where they have come up), but I think this might be the first time they have been brought up on Mormon Matters.
One thing that Dan (and co-participant Marybeth Raynes) raised several times in the episode was that the Stages of Faith are not about belief content. Consequently, the stages of faith don’t just apply to Mormonism or Christianity or any one religion, but are broadly applicable.
…at the same time, the common understanding — especially within an LDS context — does assume certain things about the stages.
Certainly, the Wikipedia won’t do justice (and I have yet to read the source book), but I’ll link to the wikipedia instead of trying to rehash the relevant stages. As far as Mormonism is concerned, however, online Mormonism is full of the narratives of those moving from Stage 3 faith to Stage 4 faith. The so-called “faith crisis” of Mormonism feels exactly as it is named — like a great crisis. And yet, in the stages of faith, Stage 4 doesn’t represent the end of faith, but merely a shift from a faith that conforms to religious authority to a faith in which an individual takes ownership for his or her own beliefs.
As I listened to the podcast and thought about my experience with Mormon disaffection online, this raised a question in my mind:
Could it be that many cases of disaffection aren’t actually a complete shift to stage 4?
A few article ago, I wrote about faith as loyalty, commitment, or an attitudinal stance. I mentioned that what I found intriguing about this world of approaches is that it separates beliefs from faith.
Today, someone linked me to an article on Exploring Sainthood provocatively titled A True-Believing Atheist Mormon.
The first thought that went into my head when I saw that title was — how could any atheist claim to be a true believing Mormon?
But the author, Mike B, quickly explains that his approach is to separate belief from faith, and he brings in thoughts from Adam Miller’s Letter to a Young Mormon in support of this:
For you, the existence of God is so unlikely and runs so counter to common sense that even an earnest kind of wishful thinking is more than you can credibly muster. God is just not given to you as part of how things are. . . . Though this common sense godlessness can make things harder, it too can open a path to faith. – Adam Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon
The interesting part of the article is to illustrate that the choice of faith can be like the choice of mathematical axioms. As he writes:
Mathematical systems are built on a handful of what are called axioms, i.e. unproved assumptions that provide the starting point for reasoning. Most mathematical truths (e.g. 2+2=4) are not axioms, but the logically implied results of the founding axioms. A common misunderstanding is the idea that axioms must be self-evident. While many axioms happen to be self-evident (e.g. x=x), some aren’t. A statement becomes an axiom simply by our arbitrarily choosing it as such. No proof or self-evidence is required.
For illustration, let’s consider the continuum hypothesis. If you tried enumerating all the counting numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) you would of course never finish because the set of counting numbers is infinite. The set of real numbers, which includes the counting numbers and other things like the square root of two, isn’t just infinite; it’s infinitely larger than the already infinitely large set of counting numbers; there are bigger infinities still. The continuum hypothesis speculates that while there are many infinities bigger than the real numbers, there is none smaller, except the counting numbers. There’s nothing between the two.
What’s interesting is mathematicians have discovered that the continuum hypothesis is both impossible to prove and to disprove, given our current axioms. The consequence—and what proved so relevant to my posture within Mormonism—is that we are left with a pure choice. With no compelling reason to declare the continuum hypothesis true or false, the question is what mathematicians call undecidable. But it is precisely this undecidability that allows us to make a pure, insupportable, axiomatic decision. The continuum hypothesis will be true, or won’t be, as we choose, and neither choice will be inconsistent with current axioms. At present, the mathematics community is still split on this decision.
This was an intriguing analogy, and I think you should read the rest of the article.