Survival of the Fittest: Mormon Style!

In the comments here and here we were reminded that — while Mormonism doesn’t work for a lot of people — there are some people that Mormonism really does work for. There are particular skills and personality traits that will help you thrive in Mormonism, and even if these traits have nothing in particular to do with good character, Mormon culture makes you feel good about yourself if you have them, and leaves you feeling inferior (or less righteous) if your strengths aren’t the preferred ones. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the story Bordeaux Mission.)

Because of the totally top-down control of CoJCoL-dS, a particular Mormon franchise (ward) can’t change to suit the needs of its particular set of members. So you either happen to fit the Mormon mold, or you bend yourself to fit, or if you can’t bend that far, you leave. Those who fit into Mormonism are, hence, more likely to stay Mormon long enough to pass Mormonism on to the next generation. There’s been some discussion of how the Mormon political climate has changed as liberals leave and conservatives stay. But is survival of the fittest also at play in the case of the astonishingly boring meetings?

Consider this typical description of the problem (from a comment in the Mormon Expression podcast on boring meetings):

While the episode focused on sacrament meeting, I believe the problem of dull Mormon church meetings goes way beyond just sacrament meeting. My main gripe was the absolute lack of any meaningful discussion or room for expression of original ideas in the priesthood and Sunday school lessons (I assume Relief Society was the same). The lessons were nearly always just a vehicle to illustrate some commandment to be obeyed (i.e., tithing, home teaching, word of wisdom, etc.) and consisted mainly of the participants parroting back the same old canned answers to the same old canned questions out of the lesson manual. The only exception was when a particularly enterprising teacher made the effort to supplement the manual with additional material. Now, however, I understand that this is expressly forbidden likely making the lessons duller than ever.

It was already almost like that twenty years ago. The new part is actively discouraging talented teachers from going beyond the manual (instead of merely failing to encourage them), plus, apparently, they’ve instituted a new practice of having people give talks where they repeat-and-report-on talks from General Conference (which everyone present has already heard).

To me, this is sufficient information to suggest that it’s time to ditch the pretense of “teaching” and “learning”. (Or maybe go back to an earlier system in which people were allowed to present/discuss new ideas…?)

But one of the central tenets of Mormonism is that the brethren are led by God, hence their bureaucratic policies are divinely inspired, hence not wrong. No matter how smacking-you-in-the-face-obvious it is that there’s something wrong with the meeting format, a good Mormon has the capacity to convince himself “President Kimball said this isn’t boring, so it’s not — or if I’m bored, it’s my own fault.”

So perhaps a high tolerance for boring meetings (even a fondness for them) is a trait that Mormonism selects for. The people who would push to have it some other way are already gone…

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53 Comments

  1. 51
    Wayne says:

    I would like to add, that for many, church is only a small component of being Mormon. There’s family and community involved. My sense is that being Mormon is more collectivist and is a sub-culture of a dominate Individualistic society. Rephrased, I think Mormons have more incommon with Chinese than they do with your garden variety American. More filial piety, less talk of how you feel about rules etc.

    Duty is more important than how you feel about the duty in sociocentric cultures.

    Alan- Your meditation is tranquil and dull? Dude how did you get there? :^ ))

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  2. 52
    kuri says:

    Wayne,
    That’s an interesting point. James Fallows once wrote:

    The American group that most resembles the Japanese is the Mormons. Same orthodox family patterns, same virtues of work and thrift, same emphasis on consensus and conventional wisdom, same abundance of steady, high-average performers as opposed to flamboyant superstars.

    Fallows wrote that in 1989, so a lot of things have changed since then, both in Japan and among American Mormons, but I think there’s still a lot of truth in what he said.

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  3. 53

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