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Read the Bible. Be culturally literate.

January 16, 2010

As I’ve written before, my experiences in Mormonism has partially defined who I am today, so I respect that influence. I don’t want my money back, so to speak (although I read that figuratively…I wonder about the tithing aspect of such a phrase). In discussion with others, I often take a position that I’d rather be misunderstood, though. Even if the church has led me through some internal rough spots that I’ve become stronger for enduring, I usually take the position that I would rather not have other suffer these particular rough spots for the same benefits.

But I’m conflicted. Because in my life, when I see certain people who are “free” of the cultural Mormonism, so to speak, I wish they weren’t. I don’t mean that in some malicious sense; I don’t wish for these individuals to experience Mormonism precisely so that they can potentially face a crisis of going against themselves for the expectations of their community. Rather, I admit that I ultimately would like to be able to communicate with these people on common ground.

I won’t be specific, because these people are pretty close to me, but I think they are close enough to care about their education and upbringing without sounding like a creeper. And under normal circumstances, they would have grown up rather similarly to my brother and me…going to church every Sunday, being expected to be valiant young men and women, etc.,

But, for whatever reason, they did not. They managed to avoid it all. I doubt they’ve gone to church more than 15 times in their lives. I’ve heard some explanation for it, and I guess I can see why things turned out the way they did, but still…I lament that as time progresses, this will be an issue where we never see eye-to-eye, because they don’t have the shared background.

It is actually quite comical, and a bit embarrassing. Now, I realize that they are almost culturally illiterate. But not only are they illiterate to my Mormon subculture, but they are illiterate to the general Christian part of American culture in general (I acknowledge that I’m pretty illiterate to other parts of American culture…that’s what living overseas for part of your childhood will do to you). I guess I should be cheering for separation of church and state and all that jazz, but I can’t deny that, say, the Bible, and understanding of basic Christian doctrines are incorporated into American culture (I mean, even take something silly, like 4chan’s anon. “…we are legion”? There’s richness in that.)

I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh on these individuals. They are 13 and 11! I definitely wasn’t very well versed in anything about religion then, but at least I knew that Jonah wasn’t swallowed by the whale/big fish because he refused to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I may be giving my teenage or pre-teen self too much credit, but if I had to guess which testament was “about” Jesus, I’m pretty sure I would guess the New one. I mean, seriously…that one’s 50-50.

And I’m not even saying that I’m an expert at Christianity. I still am pretty patchy as to the Old Testament (other than the collective lessons I’ve had throughout my church history…somehow, I don’t think that has exposed me to the entire testament.)

This has interestingly put me in the unique situation, when I’ve talked to these individuals, of trying to teach them Bible stories, when I don’t even believe in these stories (will we move on to Book of Mormon stories? Who knows?) I don’t teach it as the church would, of course. In fact, I don’t really teach it…just assign it as reading material and let them decide what they will do.

Isn’t that ultimately funny? I guess in order not to be a hypocrite, I have to speak for Santa and whatnot.

I don’t think it will reach through. After all, as I said, when I was 11 or 13? I most certainly didn’t care. I don’t think looking up to some older “cool” role model would’ve helped that one. (Another reason I would dislike teaching younger children. I would keep thinking about when I was that age [and definitely did not care about 90% of what I was learning] and then I would become depressed about the uselessness of my endeavor.)

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  1. Every grandmother wants her grandkids to speak her language, celebrate her holidays and know her stories. This desire for shared culture is huge. But damn it, the world is larger now. We need to learn the skills of enjoying each other in spite of differences — look for small islands of shared activity and relish the differences.

    What? Am I to lament that others don’t know the Mahabharata as well as I do and feel isolated because I can’t make allusions to it in conversation? My family does not watch TV (the cultural diet of most Americans) and I indeed miss out on many jokes and conversational allusions, but I don’t feel impoverished.

    I wager you know little about Ganesh or Gravity Loop Theory, but I don’t hold that against you.

  2. You know what though? They wouldn’t be any more culturally literate if they were going to church. I taught primary for the last 3 years and the only Bible stories we covered were the creation, Daniel refusing to eat the king’s meat (WoW lesson), and Jesus’ baptism. That’s it.

    I was in junior Primary though; there is more scripture education in senior Primary. My daughter suffered through BoM and half of D&C before she quit going. I assume she would have eventually heard something about the Bible, although I don’t doubt it would have been so skewed through the LDS prism as to be nearly unrecognizable.

  3. Dude, they’re 11 and 13, and have been to church 15 times already? That sounds like me when I was growing up and was Catholic. Thats more than once a year!

    As for Jonah and the Whale, Mormons do believe he was teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Recall, all the OT prophets testified of Christ. Evil and designing men just took their words out of the Bible so we wouldn’t know about it.

  4. FireTag permalink

    I see your point. By that age I was playing on the men’s softball team at church (if only as a late inning defensive replacement; it wasn’t slowpitch in those days.) My friends and I were in Zioneers where others were in scouting. Bible schools, reunions, and church camps during summers.

    I was pretty ignorant about a lot of Christianity, but there was no comparison to many in my school except those who didn’t have similar immersion in their own faith. similar

  5. @Sabio:

    I’d actually argue that since the world is larger (although most people generally say it’s getting smaller), we need to be *more* aware of each other’s culture. At least, I think that’s why half of my classes involve intercultural perspective.

    I dunno…don’t you lament that you feel isolated? Why *don’t* you feel impoverished?

    Arguably, if I were a better person, I should be more interested in trying to find out about Ganesh, Gravity Loop Theory, and other issues to try to reach common ground, but with the variety of people I meet and talk to, this would undoubtedly involve a lot of new research. AT THE VERY LEAST, the people closest to you in your life should be able to communicate with you (and vice versa) on issues that matters to each other.


    You know; I think there’s something to that. I do think senior primary ramps it up a notch, but then again, I also had some amazing teachers in senior primary (not to diss junior primary teachers). I do feel that I was still pretty unclear on big parts of the Bible (OT or NT) until later (e.g., like watching the Passion of the Christ. That’s kinda sad). And with the Book of Mormon, I probably couldn’t have told anyone a “timeline” until I got to seminary and got a handy timeline (which is pretty darn handy).

    @Madam Curie:

    Yeah, you’re also right. I guess it’s pretty uncommon for people to go to church so frequently. I guess I’m really elevating my experiences with a few people who were exceptional in that category (one person was a preacher’s daughter…and she was actually the good kind, instead of the bad kind you hear about. Another person was studying to be a preacher. Lots of very active Christians in Bible Belt Oklahoma, it turns out. And a lot of them were perfectly willing to challenged me about Mormonism, which forced me to get reading a lot earlier.)

    And I can see your point with Jonah and the Whale. I’m pretty sure I glossed all over that though.

  6. @ Andrew
    Well, I am pretty well rounded, actually but I don’t look down at those who aren’t as knowledgeable about various areas. I figure we each have our own personalities. With the people closest to you, you don’t have to know their hobbies to communicate. My wife loves & lives gardening and I don’t know anything about that and we communicate just fine. I think pushing people to know religion is just that, *pushing people*.

  7. @Sabio

    Well, I look at it more than just a “hobby” or a “religion.” As I have said, it is a culture.

    It’s like you’re not speaking the same language, your idioms don’t go well, etc., It’s not that you can’t just allude to one allusion or so. It’s that the vast part of your set of figurative language (some of your favorite parts, in fact) is inaccessible.

    I can deal with having different hobbies. I can deal with different religions (especially since I don’t believe anyway). But I don’t think it’s that simple. Really, it’s the sense that **whole chunks** of me are invisible or misunderstood.

  8. I have lived in several different countries with bizaarely different cultures and I absorbed them. Coming back to the US, I don’t feel I share much. So I absorb, as I wish my surrounding culture and share as I desire. I don’t watch any TV so miss all that common culture. But I can still speak similar language — similar enough to form very good relations with the several closet friends I nourish and to be liked by most I deal with.

    I don’t mind having **whole chunks** of me invisible or misunderstood. I seek happiness in other ways.

    I am not trying to be argumentative — just truthful.

  9. I could relate to this post. I won’t be raising my kids with theism, but I hope they’ll be interested in reading religious texts (of all sorts) and being sensitive to (and appreciative of) different cultural traditions. Including mormonism.

    Anyway, I remember in high school English I had a definite advantage when it came to literary analysis because of my understanding of judeo-christian stories/perspectives. Imagine how much better off I’d have been with a similar knowledge of other philosophical perspectives!

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