Sunday in Outer Blogness: Easter Edition!

Did anyone listen to General Conference? I hear there wasn’t anything particularly scandalous this time, but it again highlighted the absence of women in positions of influence and authority. The doctrine of eternal gender roles is actually a little dodgy:

I have often said that the gender roles described in the Proclamation are unnecessary because either they are descriptive (meaning people naturally behave this way, so who cares) or prescriptive (meaning, people should behave this way, but if it’s not natural to them, they won’t anyway and you can’t make them).

There were a lot of fascinating discussions in blogland during the past fortnight, such as the problems with hiding information, Mormons using disinheritance as a threat to keep their descendants faithful, and how purity culture affects women:

We may, as a Western culture, look down on some Middle Eastern societies that drape their women in varied levels of physical covering- but many religious cultures in America entertain similar notions. The values that led Mike Pence to his conclusions about how to relate to the opposite sex, objectify and relegate women to a lower tier status as surely as any burka.

Plus the problem of “worthiness”:

A bit tangentially, I think the use of “worthiness” language about the temple is incredibly unfortunate in the way it gets applied in particular to non-members who are excluded from the weddings of their loved ones. Whatever you think about the theological issues at play, informing people that they won’t be allowed to attend, and then explaining that it’s because they’re not “worthy” to be there is—at least in my experience—pretty much a recipe for terribly hurt feelings and deeply negative impressions of the church.

Dave read a book on the dynamics of self-deception:

To fight these self-deceptive tendencies, we need to do just the opposite of what our biased information processing system pushes us to do: we need to seek information from sources with opposing views, check our memory against objective accounts of past events, be aware of our own biases, double-check our own motives, and critique our own constructed narratives. We are not the neutral, fair, and well-informed heroes that we think we are.

In news, The blog By Common Consent is starting up its own indie press! Also, apparently the CoJCoL-dS has opened a temple in Paris — and I’ll actually be in town during the time that it will be open for public tours (but I don’t think I’ll go see it).

In life journeys, FoxyJ contemplated some alternate lives she might have led, plus Froggie prepared a gorgeous pie, and the Sunday Pews posted a piece that is funny because it’s so true

I hope everyone is enjoying a lovely holiday weekend — I know I am! Let’s remember the reason for the season! Wait, which one? Maybe that story about Jesus…? He’s an interesting character. Like Paul Bunyan, it’s not entirely clear whether his legend was based on a real person or made up entirely, but the question (while interesting) is a little bit beside the point because all of the parts of the story that make it interesting and important — those parts are made up.

In closing I’d like to thank everyone for the comments and feedback on my short article from last weekend — more are coming up!

What Does the CoJCoL-dS Offer?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends tens of thousands of enthusiastic young adults — carefully trained in sales strategies — all over the world. Why don’t people want what they’re selling? On the flip side, if the prospect of joining Mormonism is so obviously unappealing to the average person, how did the LDS missionary program enjoy periods of tremendous success in the past?

As a long-time insider/outsider observer of Mormonism, I’ve been fascinated by these questions, and also by the question of how long the CoJCoL-dS can continue with this absurdly outdated and ineffective marketing strategy. (Note: no successful company today relies on a door-to-door salesforce — I don’t think anyone besides the really elderly remember a time when it was considered reasonable to listen to a pitch from some random stranger who shows up at your door.) The solution to the riddle isn’t entirely about their marketing strategy — it’s more about what Mormonism adds to your life (and what it subtracts).

Many people speculate that the highest leaders of the CoJCoL-dS know it’s a fraud. I disagree; I think they really believe the God exists and that He’s at the head of the church. My evidence is their random and incoherent strategies for marketing the church and running it. The leaders can’t just ask themselves how Mormonism functions in people’s lives and then (cynically) use that information to craft their program and materials to maximize members’ positive experiences in Mormonism, to inspire them to stick with it. They think they really do hold the keys to salvation and exaltation (which is a valuable enough selling point all by itself!) — and since God is running things, if they could be doing things better, then God would tell the prophet what changes they should make.

As far as retention is concerned, so much of the discussion of the church centers around whether or not the church is true. This makes sense because if its central tenets really are true (especially the claim that there’s an afterlife, and the only way to ace it is through LDS temple ordinances), then it’s a good idea to practice Mormonism. The converse, however, doesn’t necessarily hold: If the truth claims aren’t true, there may yet be reasons to continue to believe and practice Mormonism.

A lot of faith crises begin when members start wondering why Mormonism isn’t working for them; why they’re so miserable in this culture that is supposed to bring eternal joy. When that happens, it can be a relief to discover that it’s not true, and that you can stop pounding your head against the wall of trying to make it work. Of course not all faith transitions begin this way. The people for whom Mormonism “works” are somewhat less likely/motivated to start asking the questions that will lead them out the door, but sometimes they do. Such people are often inclined to construct a more nuanced faith — perhaps pick an alternate definition of “true” — in order to continue in the Mormon community and lifestyle they value.

The people following these different paths can have a hard time understanding each other. One side says, “Don’t you see? You don’t have to keep believing and practicing this stuff — it’s not true!” while the other side says, “Don’t you see? You don’t have to give up Mormonism just because it’s not literally true!” As I’ve said, the real question is whether you want to.

Mormonism clearly appeals to some people and not to others; it works for some people and not for others. Please join me in this bi-weekly series exploring what the CoJCoL-dS has to offer!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Reboot edition!

So, the first installment of my new rebooted version of SiOB is only a day late, so we’re off to a great start! you’d think that since the Pokémon Go servers have been rarely reachable this past weekend, I’d be more on the ball, but the thing is that I’ve really been on a roll with my comic book drawing. That and I found another one of those popular-book-deconstructions (this time it’s 50 Shades), and those things are like crack to me. Anyway, let’s get to the news!

Despite some progress, being gay is still a big problem for Mormons, given discrimination and rising suicide rates. Some, like Laura Root and Ben, are trying to make it work — despite the fact that the CoJCoL-dS has doubled-down on its gay marriage as “counterfeit” rhetoric. Dad’s Primal Scream has just launched a new resource website for gay dads (and he could use your help). He has a few of his own ideas on what makes an marriage counterfeit:

Counterfeit marriage…

Lie to a woman. Continue lying to yourself. Hide your feelings. Shield your thoughts. Do everything in your power to ignore the uncontrollable reactions that your body produces when particular men sit close, or casually touch your shoulder, or even make eye contact from across the room. Swallow the pain that you feel in isolation and fear. In fact…remain apart. Don’t associate too closely. Feelings might develop. Don’t touch another man. At least not in any way that could be meaningful. Dedicate all touch to your wife.

Pretend that it doesn’t hurt. Act as if you are excited and glad to be physical with her. The thoughts passing through your mind would hurt her immensely, so hide them completely. Don’t ever admit that you couldn’t function as a husband if you didn’t turn your thoughts to “dark and twisted fantasies.” If you encounter struggles in your physical relationship, and your sweet and trusting wife asks what is wrong, think through the panic and come up with something to say that might be believable as an explanation for your inability, on that particular night, to do those things that men are supposed to do spontaneously with the woman they love. Lie. Lie. Lie.

Then there was some entertainment in Mormon-online-discussion-land as John Dehlin posted a podcast which included some audio from a General Authority and a historian working for the CoJCoL-dS — but there was one little problem: they didn’t know they were being recorded nor did they consent to having their remarks published. Apparently this is legal, but JD ultimately decided it was not ethical, so he pulled the podcast from his website, which naturally made about ten times as many people want to hear it (like me! while drawing!) — and consequently the Infants on Thrones site crashed from all the people trying to download the still-available version there. Then Glen of the Infants cut the thing into three pieces which you can listen to here.

I found the above series a little more interesting than the Infants’ other recent leaked-info podcast, the one with the Mormon Leaks Guideline Responses to Common Questions. The most interesting thing about that leak (IMHO) is that it demonstrates that the maddeningly evasive/misleading responses you often hear from church leaders are in fact centrally-coordinated talking points — not just individuals choosing to “answer the question you should have asked” on their own. But actually listening to these official unofficial non-answers is kind of irritating. Just read Alex’s take on it (though the questions did apparently inspire Andrew S to write an interesting analysis of Mormonism’s relationship with the doctrine of trinity).

In other news, Denver Snuffer is now the prophet of a new schism in Mormonism!

In personal stories, Jana is celebrating her brand-new marriage, and Myrtlejoy is celebrating her mixed-faith marriage:

Really? I responded. None? You don’t regret marrying someone who started out Mormon, and ended up a happy agnostic atheist?

No, he said. I love the woman you have become as much as I loved the woman I married. More, even.

In life journeys, some Mormons brainstormed some ideas of what they’d take up as a replacement if they were to leave Mormonism and Froggie took some lovely photos of Fantasy Canyon, Utah!

Gina Colvin has some hesitations about teaching people that the Book of Mormon is historical:

Yet, holding on to the claim that the BOM is indeed an ancient record of Native American and Pasifika ancestry does violence to Indigenous knowledge. Contemporary scholarship is pointing to the impossibility of the culture described in The Book of Mormon and choosing to see yourself in Book of Mormon ancient identities is often done at the expense of the tribal and cultural identities offered up in the present.

In books, Nancy Ross wrote a new review of the Garden of Enid — in a nutshell she seems to think that Hales has some good ideas but that they’re maybe a bit too complex for the format of a series of one-page gags:

Hales talks about his purpose in the interview. He was interested in telling the story of the family who needs a lot of love and support from the ward as a way of showing the goodness of Mormonism. As someone who occupied that difficult space as a Young Woman, it looks a lot different from the way in which Hales portrayed it: full of guilt for being that-needy-family (there is a brief reference to this), full of remorse for not being able to fix unfixable problems with greater faith and obedience, full of experiencing other people’s well-intentioned ignorance about the limits of your situation, capped off with a healthy dose of Mormon rejection when you are unable to be loved out of your problems.

I hope you’ve found these discussion interesting! Next week — on to something new!

New Projects for Main Street Plaza and Mormon Alumni Association Books!

I have some exciting news for the readers of Main Street Plaza, Outer Blogness, and Mormon Alumni Association Books: We’re planning to become a publisher!! Our awesome first book should be appearing… at some date to be announced, hopefully not to far in the future.

In anticipation of this new project, I’m going to make a bit of a change in format here at Main Street Plaza: I will be posting my usual “Sunday in Outer Blogness” column only every other week, and the alternating weeks will feature new posts on Mormon-related topics. This is mostly because the discussion in blogspace has died down enough over the past few years that I’d be doing more of a service by starting new discussions than by rounding up the existing discussions. And now that I’ve gone such a long time without doing any serious blogging, I have a backlog of ideas to write about again!! So I will be presenting the following series:

What Makes the CoJCoL-dS Tick? Observations and Insights of a Longtime Insider/Outsider!

If you are interested in being a part of Mormon Alumni Association Books — or of contributing articles to Main Street Plaza, please email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Women’s Edition!

I hope everyone enjoyed International Women’s Day, a.k.a. “Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day? — oops there is!” Day. There was an international strike (A Day Without a Woman), and we just got around to celebrating here in Zürich this past weekend with another Women’s March.

The Women’s March in January was a profound experience for its LDS participants — just listen to this podcast about it. Also a great learning opportunity for the kids.

While we’re celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Relief Society, let’s not forget that it is a women’s organization that not only has no control over its own budget, but also doesn’t allow women to choose the leaders at any level or even hold a meeting without male supervision, as we’re reminded by the lady infants. And as cool as it is that there’s finally a book of 185 years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, Geez, what kind of a baby step is that…? Maybe some are finally starting to get bored of white men and of the messages LDS women have been taught.

The biggest Mormon news shocker for me was that apparently LDS General Authority Dallin Oaks made some veiled criticisms of Trump in a recent devotional. (It’s about time, considering) The Zion Moat is still hanging around the news cycle a bit though, for laughs.

Remember that leaked document with that graphic about things leading people to leave the church? Well if you saw it and were wondering (like me!) “Who is Robert Norman?” your answer is here! Also Sam Young found an additional group of enemies of the church that the graphic somehow missed. Also Jack Naneek posted a new funny version.

In scripture study, Alex has just gotten to some really racist parts of the Book of Mormon.

In life journeys Joseph Broom has recounted more scenes from his gay adolescence and from his mission — and he’s not the only one sharing mission memories. Craig is saying goodbye to a friend, and the policy that Mormon funerals need to be about the atonement has traumatized some mourners, as recounted by the Infants.

In books, Dani Addante reviewed The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy, Lalove Foster reviewed Hearts of the Fathers, Greg Kofford Books has been publishing publishing a series of nineteenth-century novels with Mormon villains, and Alex posted a short story!

In not-Mormon-related, Dad’s Primal Scream posted about some favorite shows and I posted the last two of my puppet shows from when I was in college.

And now for some fun! Time for some memes! Plus those wacky Utah baby names! And Mormon deepities! And it turns out that the chicken dance has a sinister back-story

Folks, sorry I skipped last week and got this one out a day late! (Did anyone notice?) I’ve been thinking of writing a series on my analysis of the CoJCoL-dS and its strategies — but since I have limited free time, I might do that every other week while doing SiOB on the alternate weeks. We’ll see!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Finally something Mormon edition!

Last year it seemed like there was a new LDS-related scandal or news item almost every week, but it looks like “the Mormon Moment” is starting to fizzle. It seems the CoJCoL-dS can’t compete with the level of irrational/wacky/terrifying that’s coming out of the White House these days! But this past week, the CoJCoL-dS managed to swim up to the surface of the swamp with a handful of news items!

Thanks to MormonLeaks we got a view of the church leaders’ thoughts in the form of a powerpoint including an infographic on why people leave the CoJCoL-dS! Since it mentioned John Dehlin by name, he did a podcast explaining the whole thing in gory detail, in case you’re curious:

The most amusing part for me was when Dave resurrected his Mormon Inquiry blog to make the following remark:

That’s actually a pretty good list. While the graphic has prompted the usual griping from online LDS commentators, it is actually reassuring to know that LDS leaders are at least aware of the broad spectrum of challenges presently facing the Church and its membership. I wish there were a second graphic displaying a realistic action plan for each subcategory.

A realistic action plan for each subcategory?! Lolz. The plan for every subcategory is the same as it has always been: just tell the complainers/leavers that they’re unfaithful since (as far as the CoJCoL-dS is concerned) it’s a priori impossible that the members might have legitimate criticisms that the organization should listen to.

And there was this other kerfluffle in which a former Young Women’s general president gave a fireside with some questionable remarks about the women’s march:

“We were in a cab, and as I watched those women marching and yelling, and should I say, behaving anything but ladylike and using language that was very unbefitting of daughters of God,” Sister Dalton said. “As I watched all of that take place, my heart just sunk and I thought to myself, ‘What would happen if all those women were marching and calling to the world for a return to virtue?’”

Which drew some reactions:

Michelle Obama stood up for virtue. Beck stood up for sexual assault. So did Robert C. Oaks, a former member of the quorum of the Seventy who was a speaker at the rally. But as far as we know, Dalton didn’t have a problem with Julie Beck. Perhaps because she was ladylike as she supported violence against women?

And:

That she was offended by the language they were using, as if that were more important than their vocal refusal to countenance a president who has clearly engaged in other behaviors that I’m sure Sister Dalton would censure, like boasting that he could “grab” any woman he wanted “by the pussy.”

Somehow, it’s unfeminine and wrong for women to protest that, in fact, their pussies are not Trump’s for the grabbing. And to match his profanity in getting their message across.

Then there was anther mini-story Utah decided to further protect minors from seeing alcohol by adding the new “Zion moat” to its existing “Zion curtain” laws.

In personal stories, a gay dude unfortunately felt pressured to find a wife:

As soon as the door shut I started running to my car. As I ran I said to myself out loud, “What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?” I sat in my car and felt like garbage. I felt like I had just lied to her. That I had expressed something that I didn’t really feel. When I got home I told my roommates I had kissed her and they were all excited and I feigned excitement as well. The next day I was back at Emma’s house talking to her roommates before she got home. They told me that they had heard all about the kiss and how magical it was from Emma. They were so giddy about it, but the thought that kept running through my brain was, “She and I did not experience the same thing.”

In fun, I found a new Mormon satire site you might want to check out — here’s a sample: Newly Engaged Couple Feels Need to Teach Remaining YSAs About Marriage. Also Knotty posted some fun stuff about mishies and trolls.

And let’s close with some lovely pictures of the historic Cottonwood Paper Mill. Here’s to surviving another week!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Personal stories edition!

Here’s a charming little story of making a connection across cultural boundaries:

A moment later it spoke back in Chinese. His eyes widened. I showed him the button to press on my phone. He spoke into it, and a moment later it said “Yes, I am sad.”

“Why are you sad?” I asked. My phone translated.

“I lost my gloves during lunch,” my phone said aloud after he spoke to it.

Angela C revisited her mission, which brought back memories:

So in deciding to go on a mission, I felt like my identity was unsuitable anyway. I needed to be silent and milquetoast if I couldn’t be that pastel-wearing smile machine that seemed to be the desired stereotype. Since I was mostly pretend-dour in the MTC, my district didn’t really like me. They thought I was a killjoy (me! a killjoy!), and they would hum the Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch theme whenever I came in the room. My companion was cool and didn’t see me that way, but I silently let the elders think that, considering the loss of identity my necessary cross to bear.

Sam Young continues to vote his conscience:

I vote opposed in the expectation that this law will once again become the common law of church governance. I have made a temple covenant to obey the law of God. Consequently, I vote opposed in order to keep my sacred promise of obedience.

Sadly, in order to participate, you have to attend church which is boring and no fun — though you can liven it up with coloring books and comic books!

If you’re wondering whether you’re an exmo in Utah County, La has a helpful list for you. Jaxon Evans has created his own Christianity / Zen Buddhism fusion.

Does anybody understand how the forever families doctrine works? The Rational Faith bloggers have some thoughts on here-and-now marriage as well as on combining Mormonism with other identities like queer or Latino.

In scripture study, RT posted an analysis of Michael Austin’s application of Biblical canonical criticism techniques to the Book of Mormon.

Sorry I’m not feeling like posting about politics this week. I’m sure I’ll be back at it next week though — see you then!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Still not over edition!

For yet another week the CoJCoL-dS hasn’t done anything quite scandalous enough to overshadow the dumpster fire that the White House has become. Mormons are among the people swept up in this catastrophe. Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz came home to quite a crowd:

I am generally a fan of the civility-and-building-bridges approach to life, and I know that sometimes no amount of civility and bridge-building is going to, for example, set slaves free. Sometimes an angry protest is vital. Sometimes gentle diplomacy makes miracles. Logic and history show us that the great human-rights triumphs of history have been achieved by using both methods.

You too can join in the fun with your own representative! Or contribute to the Exponent’s Environmental Issue.

And it looks like the ladies are getting restless! The women of the Exponent are joining the “Persisterhood” and the girls of the Infants smacked-down that Relief-Society-vs-Women’s-March articles and memes.

As the CoJCoL-dS has decided to hitch its wagon to American patriotism, some Mormons are starting to feel the way so many others of us outside the US feel:

I was worried about my boy. He left our home and our country as the youngest missionary in my family’s sixty-years history with the Church to go to a foreign nation. It’s a place with an unstable government led by an authoritarian madman elected by a mob that sees themselves as beset by outsiders and their leader as justified in violating international treaties, denying residents’ rights, taunting foreign governments, and doing nothing as the sick poor suffer and die. My missionary wrote home about culture shock, glossing over it in his mass emails, telling me “no, but really” in our private letters. What could I do but remind him to thank God for his Canadian passport? Then six weeks into his mission, his time at the Provo Missionary Training Center was over and he could move on, leave the surreality of Donald Trump’s post-truth America, to serve his mission in countries we’re more comfortable with right now: Romania and Moldova.

At least the Book of Mormon still has some odd theology and Mormonism can inspire good comics.

It’s time to step back and appreciate our own life journeys! Things like lessons learned from quilting and binary numbers, a pilgrimage, and an unconventional proposal. And if you’d like to join thousands of others on an interactive map of where we’ve gone after leaving the CoJCoL-dS (and why we left), check out “Why I left”!

In other random fun, let’s learn about shitgibbons!

Here’s to surviving another week!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Latter days edition!

As if our biosphere weren’t in enough trouble last year, having an incompetent clown waving nuclear threats around for all to use as they see fit isn’t a step in the right direction. Oh, and there’s a chunk of ice the size of Delaware about to slide into the ocean to melt. Can we Save Our Species? I hope so. Is it just me, or have others out there gone through all five stages of grief lately?

Well, that’s not a fun opening, I guess. Let’s get back to everyone’s favorite diversion! Has the CoJCoL-dS done anything interesting lately? Or sexy. Not really, but the Book of Mormon is always there for a few laughs.

The BYU rape discussion continues, as well as discussion of the church’s political neutrality, belief boundaries, commandments vs. social norms, and the wayback machine offers some surprises as well!

Here’s hoping things are better next week!!!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Carry on edition!

The 2016 awards season has just wrapped up — please see this post to congratulate this year’s Brodie winners! Also note that the Wheat & Tares blog has posted their 2016 award winners here.

It’s hard to talk about any kind of current events these days, given the tsunami of insanity coming out of Washington D.C… I guess insanity is not really the right word (see this discussion of the problems with armchair psychoanalysing Trump), but I am having trouble coming up with replacements for words like “nuts” and “crazy”, etc. Does anyone know a good word for something that is royally messed-up in a bizarre and irrational way — without jumping to slurs about mental illness…?

There was one Mormon-related news story bundled in this week’s Trumpocalypse: apparently Trump wants to end the law that makes churches choose between their tax-exempt status and endorsing specific political candidates. Since Trump rode in on a wave of Evangelical Christians, it probably seems like a good idea to him, but it might do him more harm than good if liberal denominations were allowed to openly organize resistance to him. But the big question for us is whether the CoJCoL-dS would change its policy of pretending to be politically neutral.

Another connection was the fact that maybe Mormons shouldn’t encourage discrimination against Muslimsa fellow religious minority with quite a few points in common with Mormons. Also some Mormon women have been posting opposition to the Women’s March with some weird passive-aggressive meme about the awesomeness of the Relief Society, but sadly:

They lose their buildings, and they lose their magazines. The church takes ownership of the hospitals and co-opts their conferences. Before you know it, instead of having their own meetings and their own budget and their own agenda, they are meeting in a three-hour block of church that is presided over by men who grant them meager budgets and approve/dictate their agendas. No longer do women even run this organization on their own. Can it be called a women’s organization if women do not own it?

It is referred to as an auxiliary. It is supplementary to the organization to which it belongs. Can it even be called a women’s organization when it is just an auxiliary to a larger one that is run entirely by men?

And here’s another kicker. In 1971, all adult women in the church became members of Relief Society. You can have been baptized at the age of 8, stopped attending church at the age of 13, and five years later when you turn 18, your name gets moved from the Young Women rolls to the Relief Society rolls. Can you boast the numbers of an organization that has no opt-in or opt-out procedure? Can you boast the numbers of an organization that has no control of its own membership rolls?

One other Mormon news item was that the Air Force ROTC will be moved from BYU to UVU because the new director refused to agree to abstain from coffee — a big item on the BYU “Honor Code”.

To close with some fun, here’s a comic about a Mormon family and the CoCJoL-dS sent out a letter to local leaders containing a mysterious puzzle! Have a good week and take care!