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Read This: “The Great Chasm”

August 13, 2015

Over at Wheat & Tares, Nate has written about The Great Chasm. What is the great chasm? As he describes:

My wife recently told me that she feels like there are two classes of people in the church: one class for whom the program works (couples happily married with children), and another class for whom the program has not worked (singles, gays, infertile couples, divorcees). Members in the first class dominate leadership positions and it from them that we hear the gospel preached. These leaders are sensitive to the fact that many have not been blessed with family and children and they take great pains to remind us that “no blessing will be withheld from us” in the next life if we are faithful. Unfortunately this phrase is cold comfort to many struggling to find their place in a family-idolising church. Human nature craves validation and fulfilment now, not after death. My bishop wonders why my infertile wife hangs out with older singles and divorcees rather than with the many other married women her age in the ward. In response, my wife says that she can’t really feel a connection with those for whom the program works. Their world views are simply too different. But she feels a natural kinship with older singles, gays, and divorcees. Indeed, in all the wards I’ve been in, trying to integrate these two groups of people has been a central concern for church leadership.

What I liked more than the recognition that there are definitely people for whom the “church program” does not work was the analysis that the church’s very rhetoric changes depending on the group. Nate also goes into this as follows:

There is a vast philosophical chasm separating these two classes of church members, a chasm which has its roots in the ancient world. The Greeks introduced two starkly contrasting philosophies: Epicureanism and Asceticism. Epicureanism celebrates life and Asceticism emphasises self-denial. Traditionally Christians have adopted Asceticism, mourning the Fall of Adam as a great tragedy, and “building treasures in heaven” rather than on earth.  But Mormons are unique among all Christians in their epicurean celebration of life. For us, the Fall of Adam was a wonderful thing. The LDS conception of the afterlife is simply a continuation of all the things we love about THIS life: our bodies, our sexuality, and our families. Joseph Smith wrote: The same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory.” Traditional Christians look forward to heaven because it will be different than earth. Mormons celebrate heaven because it will be similar to earth.

I think this recognition is important. In some senses, the ways that Mormonism really differentiates itself from the rest of Christianity (e.g., the emphasis on sexuality as part of divine purpose, the emphasis on a positive Fall narrative) foreclose theological arguments that could work in other communities. For example, as I’ve written before, Mormonism simply doesn’t have a theological telos for lifelong celibacy, so advocating for celibacy immediately raises the poignant chasm between those for whom the program works and those for whom the program doesn’t work.

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2 Comments
  1. Parker permalink

    To say the church doesn’t work for everyone, is to say there is a flaw Christ’s perfect church/gospel. And that, of course, cannot be true. If it isn’t working it is because the person has/is disobedient or at the very least not reading the scriptures regularly, praying sufficiently, or magnifying their church callings. Well, that is what I was always taught.

    Latter-day Saints believe they are the happiest people in the world. In a round about way Nate speaks to that with his comment you quoted that Mormons celebrate the fall and life, whereas most Christians are looking to the next life for happiness. I’m not sure that is an accurate portrayal. There is a huge guilt factor among Mormons that they really aren’t working hard enough to receive (merit) exaltation. Whereas the various Christian denominations may lament the fall, they celebration assured salvation through Jesus, And that seems to make them pretty happy knowing they can’t jeopardize their promised salvation.

  2. Parker, your second paragraph brings up a good irony. By emphasizing agency and a mindset that if one can follow the commandments, etc., in this life, then one will have joy, that can indeed introduce a lot of problems as people who are unhappy will then doubt whether they are doing all they can.

    There are several quotes from several religious and philosophical traditions that say something to the extent that one cannot seek happiness — happiness is the byproduct of other things. That could be likened to the traditional Christian quote that if one tries to save his own life, he’ll surely lose it.

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