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Church is…entertaining

May 23, 2010

So, today, I went to church. I guess it was for the first time in…3 years?

It was entertaining.

I hear a lot of ex-Mormons who talk about church being (or having been) a traumatic event for them. Going back to their old wards is toxic as they are reminded of all that ailed them. All that haunted them.

I guess I’ve been fortunate not to have any of that.

I originally hadn’t planned such a thing. But yesterday, my dad woke me up from a nap that I was having and informed me that someone wanted to talk to me on the phone. Since people don’t usually call my *home* phone for me, I assumed that it must be important. Of course, when I got to the phone and the person on the other side introduced himself, I knew what really was the case.

But I thought to myself…what the heck. Why not? It would be interesting to see what had changed in the years.

It seems like things have moreso stayed the same. Of course, there were plenty of unfamiliar faces…but that was liable to be the case when I went every week (since my ward serves a military base that is conjoined, I suppose, to the city.)

But there were also several familiar faces, and plenty of people came by with great smiles, genuinely glad to see me. It’s funny how we all used to be relatively invisible way back when…we had a certain core of friends at church, as a family, but for the most part, people didn’t come out of their way to say hi.

But now, there were plenty of these people wanting to know how I was, how school has been, how my family has been, and so on. (Since my dad works on Sundays these days, I think that there are weeks or perhaps months where my family has no presence in the ward. I suppose you could say we are as legitimate the picture of an “inactive” family as anything. Which is odd to think about.)

I realize that none of these people know about my doubts and disbelief. But I also got the sense that that wouldn’t need to matter. Not yet. But for any of the belief questions (and the tithing question), I am pretty sure that I’m completely “worthy”.

The overwhelming sense from going back was the thought that church was…entertaining. It’s so interesting…when I was little, sacrament was so boring. Classes were so boring. And then we’d often have to stay early and leave late because dad would get to talking to people (the people who actually talked to him…not to people he was invisible to).

I can’t say it felt inspiring, or divine, or holy, or things that a believer would aspire to find from church…but it wasn’t bad. Without the expectations of what a good member should be or do, think or say during church, I was able to listen to everything that was said and that happened with a different perspective. In particular, there was a great talk in sacrament. It was about the “great and mighty change” that can occur to someone who is truly converted to the Gospel.

But the individual said candidly, “I honestly have never experienced such a great and mighty change.” He then looked to other scriptures that pointed out how great it would be for someone to come to the gospel without needing to be humbled or compelled. His idea was that the people who experienced “great and mighty changes” were those who needed such an experience to contrast their previous lifestyle. However, he argued, many of us naturally and incrementally move toward righteousness, so we never perceive the great and mighty change.

I didn’t know where to go for classes, so I asked one of my old friends. I was a bit skeptical that he could tell me where to go, because not only is he a couple of years younger than I am (and thus, probably should be in a different class), but the last I knew of him, I didn’t think he went to the right classes anyway. He told me to go some place, and in hindsight, I think I went to the wrong class (it was a bunch of adults with kids…didn’t see anyone around my age.)

But that was entertaining too. They were covering Judges, and relating the Cycle of Apostasy therein to the Book of Mormon Pride Cycle. For those who don’t understand…in Mormonism there is a theme stressed over and over. A cycle.

At some point, people are down in the dumps. Having nothing, they are humble. As they are humble, they follow the commandments and follow God. As they follow the commandments, they are blessed and become wealthy. As they become wealthy, they become prideful. As they become prideful, they fall away and fail to follow the commandments. Eventually, this leads to their destruction and ruin, where they become humble once again, and the cycle continues.

In classes with kids or teenagers, normally, my peers would be incredibly unresponsive. However, what I liked about this class was that people wanted to chime in with their political and spiritual theories. Of course, when the teacher asked how this applied to America, people were up in arms talking about the evils of secularism in forgetting God and alluding to the satanic nature of socialism.

I decided to have some fun. I noted that, while in Judges the Israelites “apostasized” by following and mixing with other cultures and their false gods, there are other false gods: Mammon. I noted that one way we could fall away from truth is to become so absorbed with wealth (and wealth in particular seemed to be a common theme throughout the Pride Cycle, I pointed out), financial and material possessions.

Now, I don’t believe church is a place to make political grandstands, and I’m not anti-capitalism or anything, but as far as the entertainment factor went…that was priceless.

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32 Comments
  1. Interesting perspective. I have never been to a Mormon church, but from what I hear, it isn’t very different from the evangelical Christian churches I went to as a kid. Sometimes I get dragged back into one with my parents (for Mother’s Day or something), and it always feels awkward. I think the dominant feeling I have is a constant realization at how weird it is that I used to sit in those pews and believe all that stuff just like all the other people and how far I have come since then.

  2. I guess my feeling now is not the constant realization at how weird it was to sit in the pews once upon a time and believe all that stuff, just like all the other people.

    Because that really wasn’t my situation.

    I guess it is the realization of how weird it was to sit in the pews once upon a time, not believing all that stuff, but realizing that others actually do. Of course, way back when, when I had such a realization, I panicked. I thought, ‘But how do I believe? what is wrong with me?” I despaired over my unbelief, and wanted to get rid of that tragic flaw.

    Now, I don’t have that kind of weight. I don’t believe there is something wrong with me for not believing, so I can still participate without such an expectation.

  3. FireTag permalink

    Ah, Andrew. You can take the man out of the priesthood, but you can’t take the priesthood out of the man. Let you in the door even without believing, and you’re speaking prophetically anyway. 😀

    I find THAT entertaining. And don’t be offended — prophets can be real even if independent of a belief in a Diety.

    • interestingly enough, in priesthood, we had a message on the power and authority of the priesthood (with relationship to a talk that elder packer gave at general conference.)

      From everything we talked about scripturally relating to Priesthood power (e.g., ,D&C 121: 34-46 — I actually don’t think the CofChrist D&C has these verses), I couldn’t find anything that seems to be impossible for a nonbeliever. I don’t think the others would appreciate that take-away from the lesson though.

      • FireTag permalink

        Ah. That’s the source of the term unrighteous dominion. I wondered where that came from. No, the sections written in Liberty jail, like all the post-1835 portions of the LDS D&C did not make it into our canon, though they did make it into our history. The concepts in the highlighted section are actually closer to RLDS beliefs than the emerging CofChrist notions that priesthood is bestowed by way of the faith community primarily for the leadership of the faith community.

  4. Goldarn permalink

    What struck me about the “great talk” you described what how it included yet another excuse as to why the mighty spiritual experiences described in the scriptures don’t happen to people. No point; it just stood out to me.

    • Basically. But it was pretty thoughtful, and personal to that individual. I could definitely see a kind of glimpse into a personal crisis he had perhaps had over this kind of matter, and the “realization” of that point probably did a lot to settle things back down.

      I guess I’m being speculative here, but that was definitely part of the entertainment factor.

  5. a couple in my ward sang ‘a poor wayfaring man of grief’ accompanied by the husband’s guitar. it was amazing. i actually enjoyed sacrament meeting today.

    • lucky!

      I mean, of course, I remember some pretty good musical numbers too…

  6. I’d love to go back, just to remind people that the ‘pride cycle’ is crap. Seriously! People forget god, and fall into destruction? When has that ever happened? I mean, Rome fell into Christianity and that became the Dark Ages! Before that, they were doing fine! Aargh!

    But I don’t think heckling in church is the Done Thing.

    • I don’t think the pride cycle is crap. I think that as it is often presented, it misstates the causes of destruction (but then again, anytime there is a revolution or societal implosion or fall from prosperity, every pundit of every economic, philosophical, political, or religious system will attribute the fall to their opponents’ position. So, it’s only natural that the church would attribute things to a loss of religiousity.)

    • All right then, it’s a fallacious model of history that misattributes the causes of social well-being and the solutions for attaining it.

      Wait, that sounds a lot like crap. How is that not crap?

      • well, I mean…if you say the pride cycle is crap without qualifying, you make it seem like you believe that history is a progression of sunshines and daisies.

        • FireTag permalink

          That perhaps, is the “pride cycle” narrative aspect we ought to keep in mind. History never stays all sunshine and daisies, even after we get rid of all these backward-thinking theists (or pantheists, like me).

      • No, I’m not saying that. I just don’t see how belief in a deity has been related to social well-being, except as an inverse relationship.

        Is there even one time in history when lack of piety in a community led to calamitous destruction? (Modern-day Scandinavia is a pretty good example to the contrary.)

        Or when an increase in piety has led to social harmony? (The Salem witch hunts would be a good counter-example.)

        Even one example? Anyone?

    • FireTag permalink

      For starters, it means properly identifying the cause of collapse, which probably means beginning with a proper appreciation of just whom Rome fell to.

      The Roman Republic fell to Julius Caesar after a period of internal power struggles that led to the replacement of a detailed set of interlocking offices with a dictatorship. (At the time, “dictator” was a term of honor and respect much like commander in chief. After Ceasar, the civil intrigue grew more disasterous even as the empire as a whole accumulated more power through exterior conquest.

      Although Constantine employed Christianity to stabilize the Empire, his own conversion was quite literally a battlefield experience; acceptance of its authenticity would tend to undermind athiest arguments more than Mormon ones. Rome itself falls to barbarians, while the “Holy” Roman Empire lasts centuries longer in CONSTANTINopal.

      So the fall of Rome fits rather well into the pride cycle narrative. It’s really the rise of Rome that doesn’t fit. Doesn’r Rome begin its rise to power with the “rape of the Sabine women” and the murder of their husbands during a peaceful festival?

      • Pretty good, FireTag.

        If I felt like being obstreperous, I’d complain that you haven’t addressed whether the people in Rome had turned to god. But I won’t.

        Instead, I’ll just point out that the ‘pride cycle’ theory falls way short on testability.

        • FireTag permalink

          We have NO theory of history that is testable or usable for prediction. We do have some observations, with too much complexity to sort out cause and effect with any confidence. One of those observations is that civilizations DO rise and fall, often exhibiting falls that are unbelievable until they are immediate.

          If Moroni shows up in your bedroom, you’re not going to argue with him. Not expecting that, you might still be wise not to invest in 100 year treasury bonds..

          As to the people of Rome turning to God, that happened at the point of a sword, particularly in the Eastern parts of the Empire. That statement even applies to Christians in the Eastern parts of the empire; the Pauline version of Christianity won out over several other Christian theologies that strove against each other with a lot of the same vigor (if less military efficiency) Protestants and Catholics employed against each other around 1600.

    • Chris permalink

      I think the ‘pride cycle’ has some truth to it but it is a little superficial (and superstitious). I think it has to do more with the fact that humans are causal-seeking animals. It’s a way to cope with the confusing world… to assign reasons to events. Superstitions of all sorts still exist.

      It’s like baseball. Batters seem to be a lot more superstitious than fielders. Why? Just look at the average batting percentage versus the average “catching” percentage (if there is even a thing).

      It seems like the better batting average you have in life, the less you are inclined to rely on religion or God (in general).

  7. That’s funny. The one story I’ve heard personally from an exmo who attended LDS church on a lark after 20 years away was that it was even more boring than he’d ever remembered it.

    • maybe I just have a fun ward. Yeah. I don’t think it would be anywhere near as entertaining if I didn’t know any of the people there and had no rapport with them. I don’t think I could get away with nearly as many coyly subversive comments either.

  8. Good discussion.

    You never did share, exactly, what the response to your mammon comment was. I was also at church, but was in a “meeting” in the utility room with the Bishop (my brother) and his two counselor’s and another guy having a “Pringle’s” meeting (i.e. sitting down, chatting and eating some pringles and drinking some guava juice – a “church” meeting I’m sure those present during the New Testament times would associate more with a “church” experience than what we have nowadays), so I missed this “pride cycle” discussion. Would have been interesting, I surmise, but the my interest in the idea of linking mammon and Mormonism is that Mormons have no clue about how prevalent Mammon is in their modern day interpretation of the church experience. To them, God wants them to prosper, so the idea of getting wealthy and buying that big house and nice cars is all in the gospel plan.

    Forget that Mormons are subject to the pride cycle, the scriptures were written about other people so we could observe how screwed up they are (i.e. displacing their angst against “socialists”). Those stories in the bible are meant to be applied to other people in all circumstances, and never to be applied to the organization we belong to nowadays.

    Would be interested in the result of your query to the larger group.

  9. Tom,

    The instructor of that lesson seemed to agree with my general sentiment, but since I was sitting in the far back pews, I could see some others in the class turning to give me pretty odd looks (“if looks could kill…”). Whatever they were thinking, no one overtly said anything at that time to challenge what I had said, and we went on to the next part of the lesson.

    Throughout the lesson though, I would definitely agree that the tenor of the comments was as you put it — people seemed to express that the Pride Cycle is something that is happening to *the rest of the country*.

  10. FireTag permalink

    Of course, a collolary to the truth of the pride cycle theory would be that the first people vulnerable to the pride cycle would be the first people to forget that they are vulnerable to the pride cycle.

  11. My perspective is different, probably because I grew up as a fully committed believer, mission and temple marriage included. There isn’t anything that is said from the pulpit that I haven’t heard a thousand times. Try me. I’ve heard over and over again the message about converting incrementally versus Alma the Younger’s big experience. I’ve even given that message countless times during the mission. Part of what led to my disbelief was the frustration of hearing the same messages repeated indefinitely without even a smidgen of originality. Even the message rationalizing why it is important that we hear the same message over and over again I’ve heard a million times, or the message about why it’s my fault if I don’t get something new from the same message every week via the Spirit.

    To me, the description of church you gave was just another episode in a long, monotonous journey to disappointment. I’m sure it would be entertaining if I hadn’t been there in years and I was fully detached from it, but I’m still somewhat in the thick of it, and it is not as cute and amusing from here.

  12. I dunno, Carson.

    Minus mission and temple marriage…and the whole “believing” part, I grew up fully committed. But at various stages, I’ve simply had a different approach to things. First, I took an approach that the religion is a game…a play…and everyone is acting to play a role. Eventually, I came to the realization that most people aren’t just acting…they actually believe this stuff. As a result, I sort of panicked, if that is a correct way to describe it.

    Now, I don’t try to force myself, but I can still look at it all with a different perspective. I can’t say that I’ve heard everything before, but I can certainly say I’ve heard a lot of it before.

    From where I’m at though, I don’t see how I can be on a journey to disappointment, because that would seem to imply I have expectations of church in the first place. I’ve realize *that* wasn’t healthy for me.

  13. Yeah, I had gigantic expectations from the church. It’s hard to shake off years and years of those expectations. I guess I’m still transitioning.

  14. I can’t necessarily blame you though. After all, the church really props itself up with many of these expectations.

  15. That was fun reading. Thank you. And thanks for the “Pride Cycle” story — it helps us never-Mormons !

  16. I dunno, I don’t look to religion for “new” things (read: content) every week. Whether it’s an LDS sacrament meeting or practicing something like mindfulness, studying, or even just physical exercise, the process is the most important to me… even though the content can certainly be repetitive.

  17. The analogy at first seems nice, but I don’t think it follows.

    The process of exercising works because we need to target specific muscle groups.

    However, if we were studying, at some point, we would want to move on to different concepts, apply foundational concepts into a larger framework, and keep building on that framework. We don’t need refresher courses on addition, for example, because addition is incorporated all the way up as we get into higher math.

    • Boo higher math.

      Agreed, it doesn’t compare with a lot of things. Need new analogy stat. I’ll stick with exercise, or even sleeping, or maintaining one’s mental health.

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