Sunday in Outer Blogness: Embarrassing Memories Edition!

One of my favorite things about participating in the exmo community is swapping stories — even (or especially) when they’re embarrassingly absurd! So I was delighted by all the reminiscences about stake dances! (I wrote my own tales of stake dances long ago here.) Other amusing memories include worst hymns, youth indoctrination, trying to be a member missionary, mission stats, playing with mishies, church gossip, and retro lesson manuals!

Then there were tons of fascinating discussions of labels and group boundaries! Who gets to define who’s a Mormon? How is the CoJCoL-dS coming along in its efforts to redefine the term? Can a Mormon be an atheist? The debate continues to rage over whether people should identify as gay. Jana Riess, whom I normally respect, has disappointed me by claiming that it’s “Anti-Mormon” to “routinely bring up strange teachings, like the idea that God lives on the planet Kolob or that Jackson County, Missouri is the site of the Garden of Eden”. (As an aside, an atheist friend of mine once said that it’s a positive development when religious believers intuitively grasp that they should be ashamed of their strange beliefs — and yet it filled me with a kind of nostalgic pride to see Elder Price courageously and unhesitatingly declare his Mormon beliefs. But that’s satire for you — a real Mormon would never do that…). I guess once you’re out, you can’t go back — or can you?

(Speaking of passing the point of no return, these types of news items — we really need to stop ignoring them, and maybe adopt a bit more of this attitude.)

A hearty congratulations to New York! Despite well-organized sneakiness, love wins! Chris and Pablo give some historical perspective on how gay marriage became thinkable (and Good to Be Free has some related advice). Not everyone is celebrating, though: Britta reports that some friends are so horrified by gay marriage that they want to leave the country (though it’s not clear where they’d go…), and a New York state senator feels that — while both divorce and gay marriage are wrong — only the one he might do himself should be legal.

In Philosophy, what is real? and is truth good? Harsh reality isn’t always a selling point, but, then again, neither is a psychopathic father figure. In history, we’re exploring polygamy, revelation, and evolution. In Theology, let’s explore Mormon concepts like exaltation and adoption!

The discussion of gender continued this week. with forays into traditional fashion and sort-of-traditional roles. Many argue that religion is harmful to women.

Sorry this one is a little late — I got sucked into a good book or three this past weekend. Have a great week, and happy reading! And check out this cute frog!

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26 Comments

  1. 1

    For those thinking of leaving the country over the gay marriage issue, I’d be happy to refer you to a few African and Middle Eastern countries where you don’t have to worry about gay marriage being legalized anytime soon…

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  2. 2
    Chino Blanco says:

    Re that Jana Riess piece, I think Helen Whitney got it right that LDS should either begin to own their doctrine, their history, “warts and all” … or stop complaining when their refusal to do so results in suspicion. Anything else is special pleading.

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  3. 3
    chanson says:

    Christopher — Exactly!

    Chino — That is so true. And then here at MSP we get the surreal experience of having some faithful Mormons tell us we know nothing for daring to claim that the Adam-Ondi-Ahman doctrine is “de-emphasized”, while other faithful Mormons (like Riess) claim that it’s “anti-Mormon” to say that Mormons believe in Adam-Ondi-Ahman (Eden in Missouri). Seriously, faithful Mormons — can you please confer amongst yourselves and decide one way or the other?

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  4. 4
    chanson says:

    This part of Riess’s piece kind of rubs me the wrong way:

    Smith chooses to highlight Mormonisms highly idiosyncratic belief that Jesus visited America. Nowhere does he balance that with discussion of more other, more Protestant-compatible LDS beliefs like the centrality of the Bible, the atonement and resurrection of Christ, or the importance of leading a Christ-like life.

    Sure, when you’re intention is to have a constructive cross-belief dialog, then by all means, start from the points of commonality. But that doesn’t mean that it’s never OK to focus on the differences. And worse, she’s giving a vibe that uniquely Mormon beliefs are an embarrassment, whereas “Protestant-compatible” beliefs aren’t. If that’s the way you feel about it, then perhaps you accidentally joined the wrong church…

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  5. 5
    Eliza says:

    Thanks for the stake dance shout-outs! I’ve certainly enjoyed the stroll down memory lane, in a cringe-y kind of way.

    Let me just say that I hate the word “anti-Mormon,” since it pretty much means “somebody who disagrees with us, criticizes us, or just generally makes us uncomfortable.” But I thought Jana Riess’ post was pretty fair. Talking about points where disagreement turns into bigotry, she said, “You choose its more esoteric or odd-sounding beliefs to represent the whole tradition.” I don’t think she was trying to say that it’s anti-Mormon to talk about weird Mormon beliefs, just that it’s not fair to focus on them. Using something like Kolob to represent all of Mormon tradition is a lot like using the 72 virgin thing to represent all of Islam. She said, “But to lead from the margins rather than the center when analyzing another religion is, as John Morehead points out in the podcast interview, patently unfair.” I’ve got to say that I agree with that.

    HOWEVER, I hate that she said that “anti-Mormon literature” brings up strange doctrines. That’s not “anti-Mormon”– that’s just information about some obscure Mormon doctrines. True anti-Mormon literature accuses Mormons of devil worship, the occult, and being modern day Baal worshipers, like this funny/sad tract: http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0061/0061_01.asp

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  6. 6
    chanson says:

    Chick publications display an amazing combination of hate and insanity (Mormonism is modern Baal worship??).

    its not fair to focus on them. Using something like Kolob to represent all of Mormon tradition is a lot like using the 72 virgin thing to represent all of Islam.

    Yeah, I get that that’s the point she’s trying to make, I just disagree with it. The CoJCoL-dS has a huge mass of old doctrines that are neither discussed nor renounced — leading to a confusing situation where some Mormons fervently believe various doctrines while others have never heard of them, and think it’s an insult to accuse Mormons of believing them. This ends up giving people the impression that ordinary Mormon members are trying to deceive people by changing their story all the time. It’s a problem that the faithful could be dealing with themselves in a constructive way — instead of by blaming outsiders.

    The current doctrine on Eden-in-Missouri appears to be Of course we believe it — it’s an eternal doctrine and Of course Mormons don’t believe that — it’s just cooked up by anti-Mormons to make Mormons look kooky and if you want further clarification (or even bring it up at all), you’re an anti-Mormon bigot).

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  7. 7
    openminded says:

    Oh dear god, if only the people who hate gay marriage so much that they’d leave would actually leave..it’s difficult being in the South and hearing the bigots everywhere. Just one big mix of intolerance, ignorance, and lack of ability to think without dogma, all in one person–for many, many people.

    It’s stressful.

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  8. 8
    Alan says:

    You choose its more esoteric or odd-sounding beliefs to represent the whole tradition. I dont think she was trying to say that its anti-Mormon to talk about weird Mormon beliefs, just that its not fair to focus on them.

    From some people’s perspective, the idea that a guy, a son of a god, died for our “sins” is a weird belief.

    To insist that there’s a Mormon “center” that Mormons and not-Mormons should work from (a generic Protestant center) only perpetuates the notion that Mormonism bows to the whims of popular opinion. The faith might as well say, “Look, this is what we believe.”

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  9. 9
    chanson says:

    Alan — exactly. And that’s what bugs me about it.

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  10. 10
    Seth R. says:

    I see no reason to be embarrassed about Kolob, or polygamy, or clothing choices, or whatever else.

    But I do think the obsession with, and exploitation of, such trivialities is a signature anti-Mormon characteristic.

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  11. 11
    Chino Blanco says:

    I had an aunt and uncle who served a mission to Adam-Ondi-Ahman. We drove out and got the tour while they were there.

    I also had a Navajo brother and sister for a while growing up.

    I’m not concerned in the least if the LDS church (or anyone else) says that the doctrines that informed those bits of my lived Mormonism were wrong or have since changed.

    But as long as we’re still hanging around on this planet, please show a little respect by not characterizing my humble Mormon family’s dedication to living the Gospel as some kind of trivial pursuit.

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  12. 12
    Seth R. says:

    These matters are trivial to outsiders.

    From the outsider perspective, the central principles of the Atonement and the Restoration are of much more importance. If you seek to learn about a system of thought – you start with the basics. That’s true in any philosophy 101 class. You don’t wade into the peripheral stuff till later. Not to say the periphery is unimportant – but it isn’t where you start from.

    The focus on the periphery is merely an attempt to hijack the class syllabus and prevent learning about the subject.

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  13. 13
    Chino Blanco says:

    You’re right that this is all about conducting class. If you’re LDS and from one of the more assimilated social classes, you’re probably on board with the effort to marginalize those aspects of your religion that you find unbearably hokey.

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  14. 14
    Seth R. says:

    I don’t find Adam-God “hokey.” Or Kolob. Or polygamy, and so forth.

    And I certainly don’t find doctrines like “Mark of Cain” hokey.

    Quite the opposite. There was nothing amusing about that.

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  15. 15
    Alan says:

    You dont wade into the peripheral stuff till later.

    My favorite belief is that Lucifer is Jesus’s younger brother. However, the fact that the cosmos for Mormons is about a quarrel between a father and his two sons is depressing from a feminist point-of-view. It’s funny how the “center” and the “periphery” flip depending on who you’re talking to.

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  16. 16
    Chino Blanco says:

    You know Mormonism has gone mainstream when its brightest lights join the the rest of the country in pretending that half the stuff they we did in the 70′s never happened.

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  17. 17
    chanson says:

    I see no reason to be embarrassed about Kolob, or polygamy, or clothing choices, or whatever else.

    But I do think the obsession with, and exploitation of, such trivialities is a signature anti-Mormon characteristic.

    The church hierarchy are the only ones who are allowed the final word on doctrine. They could write a simple volume spelling it out clearly (kind of a “Mormon Doctrine” — only officially sanctioned), but they choose not to. Instead, they speak only of the seventy-or-so “correlated” topics. And then they write the correlated manuals and make rules for the classes that make it difficult even for members to discuss uncorrelated doctrines amongst themselves. Consequently, talking about uncorrelated history and doctrines becomes a suspicious activity (for both insiders and outsiders). Labelling such discussion “exploitation” and “anti-Mormon” is a way of blaming outsiders for a situation the CoJCoL-dS itself created.

    For example, consider the belief that a cracker and some wine that you can go get at your corner church literally transform into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. I’d say that’s, if anything, more crazy than believing that God lives on a planet near Kolob. Yet people aren’t out spreading the word “You’re not going to believe this but Catholics believe in literal transubstantiation!” — mostly because Catholics won’t respond by saying,”How dare you anti-Catholics exploit trivialities to make us look bad!”

    From the outsider perspective, the central principles of the Atonement and the Restoration are of much more importance.

    Since when do you speak on Mormonism from the outsider perspective?

    I’d say that — from an outsider perspective — the Mormon obsession with “answering the question they should have asked instead of answering the question they asked” is far more important than any one specific doctrine they might be asking about.

    Then Mormons wonder why outsiders see them as “secretive” and “controlling”. Obviously, it can’t be because of something the church or it’s members do, so it must be because outsiders are anti-Mormon!

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  18. 18
    Badger says:

    From the Chick tract:

    Janice: Aunt Fran, you do believe the Bible is the Word of God, don’t you?
    Aunt Fran: Absolutely. I learned that in Sunday School.

    It’s as if Chick is so anti-everything that he forgets to turn it off sometimes.

    A lot of us have probably seen it already, but some may enjoy this Lovecraftian Chick-style tract: http://www.rubbersuitstudios.com/ptcct.htm

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  19. 19

    Amen to the “fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” spirit. I’m despairing of a technological deus ex machina saving the modern American lifestyle.

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  20. 20
    chanson says:

    Badger — lol!

    Jonathan — So true! That post makes me want to write my own follow-up post on the subject. When I visited Africa, I was also impressed by the way everything is reused and recycled. One might argue that it’s impossible to convince people to behave that way if they have the money to buy new stuff, but Switzerland is pretty good about it. Here we pay some of the real cost of throwing stuff away. Throwing away a kitchen-sized bag of garbage costs about $2 a bag, and it absolutely affects your choices w.r.t. buying junk you don’t need or that will break right away.

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  21. 21
    Eliza says:

    Changed me mind, Chanson. Sort of. I still think it’s unfair to focus on “weird” doctrine when the heart of Mormonism is the Atonement and Restoration, but I also think Mormons need to suck it up and DEAL with the weird doctrine, instead of whining about how everybody is picking on them. Do they believe those things or not? Church leaders have spoken out definitively on Adam-God, for instance. They really ought to take steps to eliminate so-called folk doctrine if they don’t want to be called out on it.

    And transubstantiation is much stranger than Kolob. Every time Mr. Snitch teases me about Mormonism I wind up saying something along the lines of, “But Catholics eat Jesus!”

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  22. 22
    chanson says:

    Eliza — lol! So your husband’s a Catholic? Mine is Catholic in basically the same way I’m Mormon.

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  23. 23
    Alan says:

    instead of whining about how everybody is picking on them

    The way I see it, the Book of Abraham (born from those Egyptian scrolls Smith bought from a traveling mummy show that, in his translation, mention Kolob and whatnot) is foundational to Mormonism because it’s about taking Smith seriously as a gatherer of the religion. If you want to marginalize Kolob, you might as well marginalize the Book of Mormon.

    On the other hand, plenty of the Bible is deemphasized nowadays. When it’s Christians picking on Mormons, they should point a mirror at themselves and ask why they still eat shellfish and whether all the unicorns, talking donkeys, locusts resembling horses, and lambs that speak like dragons in the Bible are real or are “stories” meant to convey messages.

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  24. 24

    My husband is even less Catholic than I am Mormon, if that makes sense. He’s pretty much an apatheist, doesn’t blog about Catholicism or seek out ex-Catholic communities, but still firmly maintains that Mormonism is blasphemous.

    CATHOLICS EAT JESUS, ftw.

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  25. 25
    chanson says:

    @23 Very true. The Book of Mormon also requires taking the Old Testament as literal history because of the tower of Babel story.

    @24 It’s funny the various cultural quirks we retain from our religions!!

    My husband also doesn’t blog about Catholicism or seek out ex-Catholic communities — though, really, one could argue that he doesn’t need to because practically all of France is an ex-Catholic community. He doesn’t have a particular problem with Mormonism (any more than any other religion), but he did object to Protestants claiming that Catholics and Protestants are all one big “body of Christ” together. Here’s what I wrote about our situation — see if ours is anything like yours! :)

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  26. 26

    [...] or con artist (like somebody else), and the mysterious magic of Mormonism (Oh, and continuing last week’s discussion, it turns out that whole Quakers-on-the-Moon belief wasn’t weird for its time). Are Mormons [...]

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