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Religion as an Extracurricular Activity…at Wheat and Tares

March 9, 2012

So, in a blogger scheduling shuffle, my weekly posting date for Wheat & Tares has been changed from Thursdays to Wednesdays…this past Wednesday was my first Wednesday post…Religion and Extracurricular Activities. An excerpt:

What if we treated religion more like an extracurricular activity? What if we recognized more fully that, just like neither my fencing club nor my brother’s Circle K has a monopoly on leadership development, no one religion has a monopoly on personal or interpersonal moral development? Or even if we try to say one has “more” or “better” development, what would happen if we more fully thought about the possibility that different people can progress at different rates depending on whether they are pursuing their interests? That if there isn’t something about an activity that thrills and excites you, then perhaps that is hindering or plateauing your development across the board?

And I would say something more. A lot of the time, we focus on, “Is it true?” “Is it right?” I don’t mean to downplay the nature of truth claims in any particular religion (although, I guess having said that, I will inevitably proceed to do so), but what if we viewed truth claims of a religion as being a smaller percentage — say…two percent…– of the experience taken on the whole? What if we came to expect that people would seek to engage themselves with more than just book learning and classroom instruction?

…Discussion-wise, it didn’t go over very well.

Ultimately, I feel like what I’m saying is a no-brainer. When religion is posed as this all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it sort of thing, we can see what that does to people. People decide to leave it. When religion is an obligation, and they feel like they have to do every little thing (when they don’t enjoy or even understand the purpose of many of those things), then eventually, it’s going to seem like a waste of time.

Yet, people don’t usually see it that way. Usually, they are too busy cringing at people being “cafeteria Mormons” or picking and choosing. Because that will corrupt everything, if we say that the cafeteria approach is ok, right?

Here’s how I see it:

1) We should be glad that people are taking their fill of what they want to eat from the dining hall, rather than going completely without…What’s the goal: that they have exactly what we are having, or that they have something at all?

2) The church needs to get to a point where it can admit (and accommodate) the fact that different people have different personalities, wants, needs, etc., So, to be relevant, it can’t just be relevant to a certain kind of person (that will probably represent more and more of a minority as time goes on)…it needs to be able to provide something meaningful for people of all sorts of life situations, interests, personalities, etc.,

…if that means that eventually, it has to say, “It’s ok if you don’t like this kind of stuff; try to do things your own way,” then it should be trying to find a way to help people say, “I’m Mormon in my own way, but that’s ok.”

I probably wasn’t very clear in the post there, however. I guess I’m not being very clear now, either. It’s just really frustrating to have a post and get so few responses (and yet, I understand that some of the other bloggers feel the same way on a weekly basis…it’s tough to appeal consistently to an ornery crowd…).

But then again, low-responses is kinda what happens here too, so I dunno. Honestly, the main reason I still post here is because it’s “home” for me, and plus, I get a whole lot more points from Empire Avenue from a blog than I do from blogs like Wheat and Tares. [Talk about perverse incentives…I don’t even really pay much attention to Empire Avenue anymore, anyway, as my single-digit Empire Avenue score betrays…])

Kiley had a status on Facebook (is it ok to post those things? I dunno the etiquette…it’s weird when online and offline blend like this…):

I think one of the biggest traps that the “would be” creative person faces is producing only when inspired… I don’t think you can always wait for inspiration. Sometimes you just need to force yourself to produce sans inspiration… (This is my pep-talk to myself as I stare at blank pages.)

I definitely have problems with this…I really get paralyzed when I don’t have inspiration (this is especially the case when my mom asks me essentially to write scholarship essays for her coworkers’ kids because what they currently have is pretty much unsalvageable and the deadline is too soon for me to coach them, as would be my preference). Recently, I’ve been able at churning out stuff that I don’t feel all that inspired about, but I just can’t help but personally feel it’s subpar…like, *I* know it’s subpar.

So I can’t really blame people for not wanting to comment.

(Ugh, I know that no one likes to comment on mopey blog posts…that’s what my site stats consistently tell me…so here’s to another 0-comment post?)

  1. Seth R. permalink

    Well, honestly I don’t see religion as an all-or-nothing proposition either.

    But even I get nervous when someone suggests that it should be no different than anything else in your life which you value.

    I guess it’s just that the reasons people value things in our modern society too often strike me as completely superficial. The intensity of religions demands – refusing to stop at mere enjoyment or even “fulfillment” – comes as a serious breath of fresh air.

    I’d hate to lose that for no better reason than making society more “nice.”

  2. Seth,

    I’m thinking that the reason you get nervous when someone suggests that religion should be no different than anything else in someone’s life they value is because you think it should be valued more (e.g., not “completely superficial[ly]”).

    But what are they valuing more? And why are they valuing it differently? What is the appeal of the intensity of religion’s demands unless there is some expectation of fulfillment?

    I mean, really…I don’t understand how that should be controversial…There has to be a value proposition here. Maybe that value proposition isn’t “niceness,” but you need to have something that should be appealing.

  3. Seth R. permalink

    Maybe all that talk of “losing yourself to find yourself” or denying yourself to discover your true identity and destiny that I grew up with is coming out here. I often think that self-fulfillment is a personal dead end. So perhaps that’s where it’s coming from.

  4. Seth,

    But even there, the value proposition is that when you lose yourself, you find yourself. But you have to be convinced that what you find is going to be worthwhile.

  5. I completely agree, Andrew. Personally, I can’t usually can’t find nourishment in the LDS Church. I understand others do, and that’s great for them, but it’s difficult when others don’t reciprocate that sentiment.

    Last Conference, I played hooky and saw a musical called Next to Normal with my husband. It was achingly beautiful, inspiring, up-lifting, and so relevant to our situation. We discussed the musical and its messages the entire way home. This is how I am nourished spiritually. Plays, literature, poetry, film, and open dialogue–not church usually (hardly, actually). But if I said this in a Sunday School class, I’m sure I’d get weird looks. My personal progress is attained by means other than church or Temple attendance and this has always been the case. But somehow this means my experience aren’t valid or I’m not “doing it right”.

    Maybe this can be related different teaching styles. Some students are visual, auditory,or kinesthetic learners. Say for example, I’m visual learner, but say the church gears its lessons to solely to auditory learners–I’m going to have difficulties in this “classroom”. I know this isn’t a perfect metaphor, but I hope it helps to make sense of what I’m trying to express.

  6. trying to edit comments, haha.

  7. I was a bit disappointed in the discussion myself lately because I recently blogged about the “all-true-or-all-lies” phenomenon I see among members. I’ve actually read discussions where people have told others to leave the church if they aren’t going to believe “all” of it. I think the extracurricular approach to religion is much healthier in many ways and I had hoped to see a bit more commentary on it.

  8. Taylor,

    Great points, especially with the connection to different learning styles. The thing is…it wouldn’t really even be all that difficult to open up to these different styles of learning — I mean, celebrating the arts as a mechanism for learning isn’t a theologically difficult proposition, unlike some other things about the church that could also be changed…but we just don’t see it.


    Indeed, at some point, I wonder if people know what they are saying…they are saying that they would SERIOUSLY rather have someone *leave* the church instead of finding a way to make it work for them. I mean, if someone wants people to buy in 100% (and only 100%), then there are a lot of numbers between 99% and 0% that are getting churned out.

  9. Religion is a vehicle through which we approach the Ground of All Being. It is that quest that demands a kind of all encompassing commitment. And like all things, like all quests, we get out of it what we put into it. Religion is not the quest itself, but the vehicle through which we engage in the quest… An important distinction.

    For me, there came a moment where I recognized that my need for God outweighed my disillusionment with religious institutions. And I realized that ultimately there’s no way back to God that doesn’t lead somehow through loving my fellow man, and taking up my personal cross… And through study and prayer and worship… All things the Church is perfectly designed to facilitate.

    I do think a lot of Mormons (maybe a lot of people in general, though I think this is an especially Mormon affliction) get caught up in a lot of “busy work.” It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, and forget that everything we do (if we’re busy doing anything) is about compassion and relationship and service.

  10. I guess it’s appropriate to add that everything has its place in the grand scheme of things… So, stopping to smell the roses, doing homework, sleeping in on a Saturday morning, hanging out with your friends on a Saturday night (or playing Dungeons & Dragons, on a Saturday night, as I do) is all part of the big picture… There’s a sense in which, I agree, we can’t take life too seriously, or we can’t take it seriously in a certain way, that causes us to forget the importance of these little things that make up the fabric of our life.

  11. John G-W,

    It just seems to me that religion is REALLY good at teaching people it is the quest itself rather than teaching people that it is just the vehicle to engage in the quest (e.g., see Elder Poelman’s 1984 General Conference talk before and after editing…at least there, BEFORE editing there was a sense that he was saying basically what you are saying…but after editing, the talk was basically rewritten to say exactly the opposite.) I still don’t even know what things like “The Ground of All Being” are even supposed to mean, much less ride any sort of vehicle to it.

    I just think that most people aren’t going to ever interact with God on such a level that they are going to even get to a point where they have such pressing needs for God that outweigh other considerations and disillusionment.

    re: your second comment,

    yep. lost ya. :3

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  1. Also Extracurricular…The Bloggernacle, Scout Trips…and Missions? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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