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Questioning and dissension

December 30, 2008

What should people do when they have questions in the church? Doubts? Disagreements? I was reading this blog entry at Feminist Mormon Housewives (I do that a lot) (of a blogger who normally posts at the Liberal Mormon that Could, so I should probably shout out to that as well), and I was kinda interested.

As with most gutsy topics, you can see this spectrum of responses. There’re hyper-defensive, conservative, a range of  faithful approaches, more permissive responses, all the way down to responses that even I feel are radical. For a question about one who doubts, it seems simple to say, “Never speak ill of the church,” or, to create the illusion of a more permissive and reasonable approach, to say, “It’s ok to dissent inside, as long as your public face and public actions are unified with the church.” This seems to be a reasonable idea: don’t hang your family’s dirty laundry out.

But what I like about big topics like these that tend to blossom from group blogs is that you do hear the wide variety of opinions. So, I read something rather interesting indeed:

If you never had doubts, and never questioned, but just accepted everything without argument, would you actually LEARN anything? Isn’t that what we’re here for?

…It’s like the Word of Wisdom – given for the weakest of the saints. Those who can control themselves, and limit themselves to just one glass of wine a day are actually healthier, but how many people really have that self control? It’s much better to have none than to become an alcoholic, and so the Church says not to have any at all. It’s safer for the masses that way. It’s safer for the weakest of us.

This intrigues me. After all, it’s no doubt that when people try to reason out the word of wisdom on purely scientific terms, things can backfire. But the position becomes defensible in a proper attitude: for example, if it’s a test of obedience, then naturally, it doesn’t matter if the Word of Wisdom describes a temporally or scientifically “correct” diet — regardless of if wine may be healthy or tea may be healthy, obedience in the sense of the church doesn’t rely on that.

But also true is the fact that the Word of Wisdom is for the weakest of the Saints…so is the iron rod a guiding rail for when people are weak or limited, and not necessarily an absolute prohibition?

These guardrails arent *necessary* for all

These guardrails aren't *necessary* for all

This would probably be seen as radical by many. It seems like it cannot truly be reconciled with the doctrine as the Brethren would like us to follow it — let’s face it, the church is never going to say, “As long as you can control yourself, some moderate use is ok ^_^”. It doesn’t sound like anything that would fly in sacrament. First of all, people have an incredible tendency to overestimate their abilities and tolerances in any number of things, so playing with addictive substances doesn’t seem like sound advice for a one-size-fits-all church. And secondly, the church already teaches that people are led carefully to hell — so it’s “moderate,” in the church’s eyes, must lead slowly yet surely to “uncontrollable.”

…Yet, it seems an attractive half-way point — like that idea of New Order Mormonism — instead of dropping it all, why not pick and choose? Cafeteria religion seems to strike against my senses (I’ve probably been tainted too much by LDS black-and-white-isms — either the church is true, or it’s the greatest sham ever, as some would say), but at the same time, I can understand how it would be alluring.

It’s an idea many people find to be spiritually mature. To use the church as an organizational base, but to progress individually above and around it. To use  the church as a wide gated community, but move freely around those gates.

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  1. There are places where the New Testament seems to unequivocally condemn eating food sacrificed to idols. But then you get Paul talking about Christian freedom, and saying in a letter to the Corinthians that it really doesn’t matter unless you let it matter, or unless by the exercise of your freedom you might end up dragging down a “weaker” brother. James says that many of Paul’s teachings are hard to understand, and takes a very moralistic approach by comparison to Paul’s more free-wheeling fideism. Is it possible that the Word of Wisdom is the milk, and Christian freedom the meat? (If so, make sure not to partake of the latter during the winter!)

  2. First of all, thanks for the shout out 🙂

    Secondly, I’ve also delved into the ideas and theology/rationality surrounding the WoW and have to wonder…aren’t there bigger and better things to be focusing on?

    I understand the rationale behind the WoW. We are to take good care of the bodies given to us. I do wonder about the faith behind coffee and tea – lets be honest here, there’s no real substantial evidence to suggest coffee and tea are bad for you. Faithful members of the church would add “yet.”

    A person could easily take the WoW to an extreme, and indeed they do. A close look at the section, however, tends to lend more leniency than the church leaders would like to give:

    Given for the weakest saints. Okay, we’re all potentially weak, but this then would call to us living to the spirit of the law, correct? After a while, a person could theoretically need to give up sugar, sodas, etc. All of which are bad for the body, but does strike as a little extreme. Again: bigger and better things to be focusing on. We have to watch ourselves lest we succomb to yet another church hobby that eclipses the more important gospel admonitions.

    (v 17) Barley for mild drink…as opposed to strong drink? are we talking beer here? (others insist the scripture speaks of a barley drink made to de-tox the body. I wonder because of the distinction of “mild” drink as opposed to strong)

    Again, I understand the need to take better care of ourselves and recognize that the WoW is hardly comprehensive.

    I suppose in the end the question really is: Are we supposed to live both by the letter and the spirit of the law, and if so, just where does one draw the line?

  3. I understand what you’re saying — it’s because the letter of the law, if we were to try to follow it, isn’t necessarily so clear to us. And even with things that are clearly stated (eat meat sparingly), we just gloss over these things and focus on things like “hot drinks” that apparently include iced tea and dis-include hot chocolate.

    I’ve always been of a mindset that this is something that has to be taken on faith and obedience. So, looking for scientific evidence isn’t really the focal point. If the WoW banned something scientifically found to be quite health, like milk, then members shouldn’t ask, “Hmm…what bad health effects does the WoW prophesy? When science finds that milk is actually bad for everyone, we’ll have proof that this is a prophecy from God!”

    No, that’s not the right focus. It’s just an obedience point. Obedience points that are disconnected from reality are kinda dangerous (kill your son), so at some point I can’t justify that obedience is a *good* quality to have, but that’s the kind of mindset I thought was supposed to be cultivated with it.

    What’s different about this idea…focusing on the weakest saints…is that it changes the idea from a primitive lesson about obedience to a more empowering lesson about self-control. It radically makes the WoW reread into something like the prophets’ “guidelines” on rated-R and rated-PG13 movies…they aren’t “banned,” but one should be careful. Now, the difference is that your bishop is going to ask you if you’ve kept the word of wisdom and he’s going to have a very specific meaning of what it means to keep the word of wisdom…but isn’t that an interesting way to look at it?

    It wouldn’t be too popular in Mormon Culture of course…the culture is too busy deciding if even Diet Coke is acceptable.

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