Creative new dimensions in victim-blaming!

It is a truth universally acknowledged among Mormons, that church meetings are boring. Painfully boring. But that if you see that as a problem, the solution is to change your own attitude — and if you are unable to convince yourself that you are in some way edified by these repetitive and substance-free meetings, then it is your own moral failing.

So I wasn’t remotely surprised by the beginning part of this quote from The Crucible of Doubt:

We know that the main purpose of Sabbath observance is to partake of the Lord’s Supper. But we sometimes grow frustrated with all the peripherals with all the peripherals. Lessons and talks are to some Mormons what cafeteria food is to teenagers–not just in the way they can be bland and boring, but in the way that they sometimes bring us together in mutual griping rather than mutual edification. But what if we saw lessons and talks as connections to the sacrament rather than as unrelated secondary activities? What if we saw them as opportunities to bear with one another our infirmities and ineptitudes?

Or what if we considered the possibility that if everybody’s always griping about something, then maybe it’s a sign of a systemic problem that could be addressed…? But that’s just my professional inclination as a software engineer with a specialty in troubleshooting.

The next bit, however, absolutely floored me:

What if we saw the mediocre talk, the overbearing counselor, the lesson read straight from the manual, as a lay member’s equivalent of the widow’s mite? A humble offering, perhaps, but one to me measured in terms of the capacity of the giver rather than in the value received?

So, in essence, if I say, “I don’t want to go to McDonald’s because the food there is garbage,” then I’m being mean and uncharitable to the poor workers who did their best when assembling that Big Mac. Magically absent from this picture are the institutional policies that prevent anything of substance from being served.

Then I remembered that Terryl and Fiona Givens aren’t talking to me. They’re “pastoral apologists” — and if you don’t know what that means, see these discussion, for example. Here‘s a relevant quote:

it seems to me, from online conversations with Seth Payne and Dan Wotherspoon, that the pastoral apologists have just a fundamentally different view of the church. I mean, it definitely seems that they speak about all the good the church does because they actually believe the good outweighs the harm. Even if I can get them to agree that there is bad stuff that happens, always, always, always, that’s people acting in small-mindedness rather than an institutional problem. Always, that people failing to be Mormon *enough* or failing to be Christian *enough* rather than the natural result of actual Mormon teachings.

So, maybe the people in Givens’ intended audience really are blaming the line-workers for the crappiness of the Big Mac, so to speak.

Perhaps the moment when you look straight at the elephant in the room — and you’re capable of focusing on it instead of constantly craning around it to look at everything else — is the point of no return when it comes to belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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chanson

C. L. Hanson is the friendly American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! See "letters from a broad" and the novel ExMormon for further adventures!!

14 thoughts on “Creative new dimensions in victim-blaming!

  1. Mormon Heretic lists four problematic points that the
    Givens discuss in their book “Crucible of Doubt,” which M. H. likes. I liked them as well for their creativeness with these four points. I was reminded of a character in a short story who would account for his bizarre behavior by saying “my imagination was acting up.”

    When I first read the OP I thought there would be considerable discussion of the points Heretic presented. Instead the responses have mostly focused on doubt, and whether a person with a true testimony can have doubt.

  2. @1 Good point. That bit explaining away Joseph Smith’s (God’s?) claim that the CoJCoL-dS is the true church definitely merits some discussion. Too bad nobody responded to your comment over there.

  3. Speaking of boredom in Mormonism, that’s the subject of Adam Miller’s next book. Said book doesn’t yet have an ETA, but he has been doing study groups on the topic (see this Worlds Without End post). Per him, the reason boredom is a feature, not a bug, is because:

    Boredom, according to Adam, occurs when we reach the limit of what interests us. The implied self-absorption in the adjective “interesting” meets its demise in boredom. Yet, boredom can be a gateway to religious experience; an invitation to move beyond self-centeredness. This is why Adam lists boredom among the fruits of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, boredom…” (Galatians 5:22-23, AMT). In sacrament meeting I almost always find myself reading on my Kindle, largely because the speaker is “boring.” But Adam invites me to abandon my utilitarian approach to sacrament talks and instead seek to understand what the speaker is getting out of it:

    Why did they approach the topic the way they did?
    What makes them view things the way they do?
    What impact did preparation for this talk have on them?
    Are they nervous?
    How did their past week go?

    In essence, boredom is an invitation to connect with others.

    I’m actually not knocking this. I personally and interpersonally definitely see in my life that it can be really problematic to dismiss something as boring when someone I care about is really invested in that thing.

    But you know…I don’t need to artificially create settings like that by going to church. I have plenty of real world settings to practice an appreciation for boredom.

    The Givens’ writings on the subject appear to track Miller’s, at least in spirit. So, given that (pun…not intended), I would say that the Givens message is neither that there is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed (again, it’s a feature, not a bug) NOR that the crappiness of the Big Mac is a problem from the line-workerrs. No, our perception of crappiness is our own, and overcoming that perception is our spiritual work. Arguendo, that church is so boring (read: that we find church to be so boring) is a feature because it gives us more opportunities to overcome that feeling.

  4. @3 I agree one can gain things from being bored. It would be one thing if they had started with the idea that boredom is beneficial and set out to implement it in a constructive way.

    In this case, however, it looks like they are simply starting from the premise that the church is perfect, and they’re looking for any possible way of interpreting bugs as features because concept that debugging is in order is unthinkable.

    Givens message is neither that there is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed (again, it’s a feature, not a bug) NOR that the crappiness of the Big Mac is a problem from the line-workerrs. No, our perception of crappiness is our own, and overcoming that perception is our spiritual work.

    Right, that’s my point. The Givens are saying we shouldn’t blame the line workers for the crappiness of the Big Mac, we should blame ourselves. And I’m like “Why the hell would it even occur to anyone to blame the crappiness of the Big Mac on the line workers? WTF?”

  5. What else is a false organization to do? Hiding history hasn’t worked so try to find the good somewhere while attempting to retain some semblance of authority? Blaming the victim then is a must or else there is simply no more authority.

    This org will become more and more irrelevant as time passes.

  6. I think of people who go on and on about “milk before meat.” The idea is that different things are nourishing at different stages in your life.

    But now it seems like they’re saying milk forever—or rather, formula forever. You never graduate to anything more nourishing or complex. You just trust that baby food is going to sustain you your entire life.

    Who on earth really wants that?

  7. Chanson,

    We are on the same page. I originally misread the second to last paragraph of your OP.

    I think your followup content really provides the answer to your question. Why blame the line workers? Because the “church is perfect” but “the people are not”.

    Even if it would be preferable to address the systemic problems of the church, I guess it is good (maybe?) if the Givens can at least get people to stop blaming other members and look at themselves.

  8. I’m revising my thinking on this. It’s not “formula forever”–it’s Big Macs forever. It’s like they’re saying that whatever the nutritional drawbacks of Big Macs, they’re still the most perfect food you can consume, and you should be happy with them as the primary item in your diet.

    Wanting to go to Olive Garden or Pizza Hut or Taco Bell or Smashburger or a local restaurant or–imagine that!–the grocery store so you can buy some fresh produce and make your own meal means that you’re just “frustrated with all the peripherals,” and need to repent.

  9. Even if it would be preferable to address the systemic problems of the church, I guess it is good (maybe?) if the Givens can at least get people to stop blaming other members and look at themselves.

    Maybe. I’m not convinced it’s constructive to blame yourself for something that’s not your fault. And even if it might be a bit better than blaming others for something that’s not their fault, this advice doesn’t really stop at self-reflection. It naturally extends to a general blame placed on those who can’t find a way to find the meetings worthwhile.

    @8 Right. Like it’s a personal failing if you say, “this is of poor quality and it’s unhealthy for me,” instead of finding a way to focus on the positive aspects.

  10. @9: Yeah. Saying “Hey, the emperor has no clothes!” isn’t insight or bravery; it’s a failure to understand how he’s not really parading around naked after all—because he’s magically clothed in a specialness that somehow renders the charge of nudity completely irrelevant! It also means you can’t quite grasp the momentous truth that the enormous disparity between what he claims he’s wearing and what he’s actually got on is, for some inexplicable reason we can’t begin to understand, irrelevant as well.

  11. I suppose the charitable reading of this approach is that the Givenses know there are structural, institutional failings that make church boring, but those are outside our control, so we should try to find ways to make church more meaningful for ourselves. But it definitely does have a blame-the-victim vibe to it.

    I see the problem of boring church being the consequence of the church believing itself to be true. Instead of trying to attract members through meetings that enrich their lives, we guilt members to come attend and run the meetings because it’s what God wants them to do. Since the church is true, it doesn’t matter how boring church is. It’s treating members like employees instead of customers. To really address the boringness of church, there would have to be a paradigm shift at the top about the purpose of church and the reasons for attending and the relationship between the church and its members. And I don’t ever see that happening.

  12. Church meetings are boring. Most meetings are. Whether it is a school lecture, work presentation or church, meetings are often boring.

    Your McDonald’s analogy is HORRIBLY flawed though. In it, you bring the false dislike of McDonald’s food not being nourishing to poor employees.

    With the BEST employees in the world, it would still be McDonald’s food. In your analogy, the problem isn’t the employees, it’s the content. Great employees does not make a Big Mac more nourishing. It may make the experience more enjoyable, but not nourishing.

    Find a better analogy. Perhaps one with actual nourishment….say a health food store with crappy employees vs good employees.

  13. What’s false about disliking the nutritional value of McDonald’s?
    I admit my reading comprehension is at times lacking, but a certain corporation sole may be lacking in nutritional value. It is the content.(Should the analogy be the educational attainment of employees in a filler factory? And yeah, Unions!)
    It may be helpful if they provided a nutrition label instead of feel good advertizing.
    A good employee may greet you as you walk in the door, but the food’s still crap.
    And yes, I may go to a farm fresh restaurant with bad service, but the food is so damn good.
    If I am suppose to endure to the boring end, I should get a good meal out of it. In this life, and not some raincheck for when I’m dead.

  14. With the BEST employees in the world, it would still be McDonald’s food. In your analogy, the problem isn’t the employees, it’s the content. Great employees does not make a Big Mac more nourishing.

    That is the whole point of my analogy. “The problem isn’t the employees, it’s the content. Great employees does not make a Big Mac more nourishing.”

    Exactly! That’s why I was saying it was astonishing that anyone would even think to be blaming the employees, as the Givens seemed to be doing.

    Clearly I need to work on my exposition — you’re the second person who understood my point backwards (reread comments 3 & 4).

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