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Mormonism, thrown-ness, and continental philosophy? Do want!

January 29, 2013

Over at Times and Seasons, Dave Banack has written his third and final post on his series addressing Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology.

One thing I’ve said about Adam Miller’s writings is that I just don’t get it. I imagine that if I got Rube Goldberg Machines, that would happen within the first few paragraphs. But the thing about Dave’s series is that in just three posts, I feel like I’m getting it. Dave’s latest post, Thrown into the Mormon Lifedescribes experiences I’ve had several times in my life. From Dave:

Adam sets up this inquiry with a reference to the opening of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Dante claims that we each awake, if we wake at all, to find ourselves already midway through life. We, each of us, are shaken from feverish dreams to find ourselves already promised to bodies we did not choose, to families we did not elect, to times and places we did not will. Or, to borrow a similar image from Jonathan Swift: we each wake, if we wake at all, to find ourselves like the hero of Gulliver’s Travels, smack in the middle of Lilliput, shipwrecked, bruised in the head, and already bound by ten thousand gossamer threads of circumstance.

Children are not reflective: they are too busy living an energetic life of one thing after another. Teenagers, same thing. Young adults are busy getting independent life started: get through school, get married, get a job, get a career started, and deal with those energetic children. When did you first stop, look around, and seriously reflect on your life, your Mormon life? At 25? 35? 45?

Let’s consider a question that arises from Adam’s essay but was not directly addressed: If we waken to Mormonism or a Mormon life, what did we awaken from? Pre-reflective busyness? Ignorance? Babylon? The world? Selfishness? Pride? Sin? Childhood? Think about the best-known reference to awakening in the popular culture of our day: “Wake up, Neo. The Matrix has you.” What was your matrix? Before you woke up to Mormonism, what had you? If, like me, you are a convert to Mormonism, that’s a simpler question. Waking up to Mormonism was a conscious choice. If you’re a convert, you have a pretty good sense of what had you before you chose Mormonism. Every convert has a story about waking up to Mormonism or they wouldn’t be here. But if, like Adam, you were raised within Mormonism, waking up to Mormonism is not a prerequisite of being here, it is not so well defined, and the matrix of a pre-reflective Mormon life is perhaps more problematic. So I’m guessing converts read Adam’s essay differently than lifers. Lifers don’t choose Mormonism, they’re just thrown into a Mormon life from the beginning and have to figure out what that means as they live it.

So much I like in all of this.

I was raised in the church, so my pre-reflective life includes Mormonism.

Recently, I started reading some information and sites about G.I. Gurdjieff and “The Work.” I have been captivated by the idea that we are all asleep — yet we feel like we are conscious, kinda like when we are in non-lucid dreams and haven’t woken up to realize our folly –…and we need to work at awakening.

So, that gives me another opportunity to think about waking up, and especially from within the continental/phenomenological perspective that Adam Miller is drawing from.

I can think of several times in my life when I have “woken up.” Here are just a couple of them that relate to Mormonism:

  1. When I realized that everyone wasn’t a Mormon.
    When I was a kid, I thought that everyone was Mormon. I didn’t really think things through, but hey…I was a kid. As I grew up, I realized first that not everyone is a Mormon. With that realization quickly came another: not only is everyone not a Mormon, but most people are not Mormon. Mormonism is an extremely minority religion.

    When my family moved to Oklahoma (right in the middle of the Bible Belt), the interaction with my classmates throughout junior high and high school made me realize a third thing: not only is everyone not Mormon…not only are most people not Mormon…but there are plenty of people who find Mormonism to be strange, non-Christian, and cult-like.

    These realizations sometimes would give me some anxiety (man…I have a lot of self-hatred issues over a lot of things in my life, and Mormonism is one of them)…I’d periodically wake up and think to myself: why me? Of all these billions of people, why was I raised in this minority religion that no one seems to understand? (Can you guess what things my other self-hatred issues were about?)

  2. When I realized that people actually believe their religions.
    When I was bashing Bibles with my friends and growing up in the church, I thought of religion much of like a game. The rules of the game were simple: you play your part to your utmost ability (like marching in a band), and you answer the questions with the answers people expect.

    When I debated with friends, I was defending the religion of my upbringing and of my family. I would often feel the answers to be doubtful and dubious…but I wasn’t going to let anyone talk trash about what I was raised with.

    It was only when I was getting old enough to start seriously thinking about a mission that I started to realize that I didn’t feel comfortable going out and trying to teach people this stuff. And I realized that I had been saying it all along but I just could not see it: I had been saying, at youth conference of all places, that I “didn’t really believe in God or the church.” (And I couldn’t understand why everyone would be quiet afterward…but one day, I took out the “really” hedge word and discovered what I was saying.) I realized that other people weren’t just playing a game. They actually believed in God, in what the church was saying, etc.,

  3. When I realized that I couldn’t seem to make myself believe.
    This combined with the 2nd realization comprise my lack-of-faith crisis.

I guess as a “young adult” with no significant other, no kids, no nothing, there’s still quite a ways for me to have reflective awakenings, though.


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  1. ID, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and found it enlightening! I was hoping the last post would generate more discussion in the comments at T&S, but like you note Adam’s themes can be difficult to “get into.”

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