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…
Anytime the question of meetings being dull comes up, I think about Gladys Knight and her stance that the LDS hymns need to be more engaging, musically and bodily.
Or a story Darron Smith tells in Black & Mormon about a black guy who attended a meeting and shouted “Hallelujah!” after something the bishop said. An elder took the the man’s friend aside and asked that he “speak with” the guy about how to behave “appropriately” at Sacrament. The man never returned. Only a certain about of difference is tolerated in LDS meetings, and there are outlets and processes for difference to manifest rather than simply…letting it manifest. I think this can quickly become boring and tedious for anyone interested in spontaneity. I do think, as you have pointed out, this is directly related to hierarchy.
Smith also talks about his wife at a Relief Society meeting who brought up a topic of “Should all teachings of Mormon prophets be obeyed, including teachings such as those that condemned interracial marriage?” The Relief Society president immediately shut her down, saying that she was “out of bounds” for “criticizing” church leaders. To me, this topic would have opened up a lively discussion about power and knowledge in the Church, about how to faithfully process contradictions, a kind of discussion that is healthy and might occur online. (I imagine a lot of people can handle the Church only because of the anonymity of online conversations to vent.) Personally, if I was in a situation where a topic about power/knowledge is introduced and then is immediately shut down in a kind of power play, I would get so angry I would have to leave the room. Maybe there is a “survival of the fittest” either in terms of dulling one’s sense of difference, or in terms of patience.
The argument that our lives are overstimulated and thus people should appreciate tranquil dullness when it comes to worship is fine (I like to meditate myself). But this argument reaches an impasse when the dullness is also a result of systematic silencing.
It’s funny how the discussion on the Bloggernacle (and even in the ME podcast) always centers around how funny/problematic it is when the ward nutcase starts preaching random nonsense as doctrine. And that’s treated as a good excuse for why it’s reasonable to insist that everybody just stick to the manual (or to repeating talks from conference).
I disagree with that philosophy. I think that when you have a climate where open discussion is encouraged, then it’s not a problem at all to let the ward nutcase have his say because you can discuss the merits of his position (and make it clear whether you agree or disagree). And it’s a terrible excuse for silencing everyone. If the Bishop and his counselors are inspired (or if any of them are even reasonably good managers), then they should be trusted to select teachers appropriately, and this cookbook-micromanagement plan from the COB should only be for wards that have a severe leadership-competence problem (if at all).
Yes, that’s what I’m talking about. The people who would have a problem with this sort of “leadership” have largely already left…
“President Kimball said this isnt boring, so its not or if Im bored, its my own fault.” — Al Mormon
“You win some, you lose someand then there’s that little-known third category.” — Al Gore
Since chanson has gone and brought up the Bloggernacle, I’m gonna suggest that the prevailing attitude among that particular Mormon demographic occupies a third category:
“Of course Mormon meetings are boring, but then so are you, Captain Obvious.”
Chino — You’re right that’s the standard response. I think it creates a bit of a meta-problem, though:
If the response to every criticism is “Well, the problem can’t possibly be church policy, so it must be you,” then you create a situation where problems in church policy can never be reasonably addressed, much less solved. So eventually the only people left are those who are OK with that
I’m suggesting that a common Bloggernacle variation of that typical chapel power play is to readily allow that policy could be better but then quickly pivot on the question of who’s filing the complaint. My sense is that hierarchy, not policy, is the shibboleth that Internet and Chapel Mormons rely on to recognize each other.
For example, this recent 9Moons post asks: “Banner of Heaven Retrospective Post Mortem: What Does It All Mean?”
As far as I can tell, what it all means is that there’s a Bloggernacle hierarchy, so get used to being told when (and when not) to take the Bloggernacle seriously. I agree completely that eventually the only people who will be left over there are those who are OK with that …
Yeah, well, interesting or not, this is mostly just me chafing at how Andrew S. was treated on that 9M thread and at the treatment I recently received over at T&S.
Memo to Jonathan Green: Just because your readers cant see it doesnt mean my comment isn’t there. Your response to Mark Brown struck me as utterly disingenuous:
I don’t know what impressed me more: Jonathan feigning unfamiliarity with BKP’s famous triplet about gays, intellectuals and feminists; or Mark shrugging off such a boorish response.
By the way, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Chris H. intends to reveal the name of Scott B. and Steve Evans’ love child at this year’s Sunstone symposium, and that the proud parents have already registered a fresh domain in anticipation of the arrival of the latest LDS blogging phenom/Wunderkind.
Wow. That’s irritating, but unfortunately not too surprising…
Speaking of “Survival of the Fittest” … wanna know what warmed my heart recently? I’m coming off a month at the family homestead in the Ozarks. And invariably, whenever I’m home, Mom asks me to go through the various boxes of ancient paraphernalia that she’s faithfully kept stored downstairs along with the beans and rice and firearms. And in one of those boxes was an issue of the Student Review that I’d had delivered to me in New York after my transfer out of BYU (i.e., dating back some twenty years).
At that time, names like Joanna Brooks, John Hamer or Eric Ethington wouldn’t have registered … but there they were on the masthead. And twenty years on, there I sat, in a random Ozark basement, just last month, thinking how cool it was that, twenty years on, these same kids had now made names for themselves, names that I now recognized.
As it turns out, we’ve always been surprisingly fit, since way back.
One thing that…I dunno…saddened me…about the discussions first linked (on the people for whom Mormonism works) is that the people who were so concerned about preserving the Exponent for Mormon women (and preserving an exclusive definition for what it means to be a Mormon woman) have some…I dunno…interesting, but sad facets of their own faith (as I wrote about in Faking it till you make it, because I *knew* BCC wasn’t going to let these comments fly.) People like this seem to believe that you should be faithful and obedient no matter what, and not rely upon as sense of “authenticity” or it “feeling right,” because if you wait, then you won’t ever “feel right,” and you won’t ever serve, and then you’ll crash on the rocks.
This reminds me of another set of arguments. One guy who is rather anti-gay always brings up this “duty” to heterosexual marriage and family…but he always speaks of them exactly as that: a duty. Something that he would rather not do, but he knows he must do.
I can see how when people have such a religious foundation that their religion requires and encourages to endure hard things (even going against their own inclinations), then it’ll be easy to argue, “So what if I think meetings are boring. That means that there’s a problem with ME.”
That’s excellent, but I hope you’ll look closely in the staff box and notice John’s little sister “Carrie Hamer” too. 😉
Andrew — I grew up seeing meetings as something you endure to prove your faithfulness…
also, re 9:
That is such a great little story! I now feel bad that I’m not making a name for myself, lol.
Carrie – You hope? Oh, please. Now I’m disappointed. Pardon me for assuming chanson would consider it dclass to draw attention to her current superstar blogmistress status.
Andrew — I’m sure that you are, more than you realize. 😉
Speaking of the name-dropping @9, here’s my favorite photo taken by an SR staffer back then:
Infamous Internet apostate “C.L. Hanson” (with “Ask a Mormon Girl” Joanna Brooks tending bar) 😉
@13 I was hoping you would say something, so I wouldn’t have to. 😉
Sure, I’d be above this sort of antics if only I were as famous as the other people you mention. As it is, I have to be like “Hey, don’t forget — I’m related to a famous Mormon personality!” lol
Andrew – In the interests of salvaging this thread, I’m gonna suggest we quickly move on and ignore the midriff on display in the previous comment.
And of course, Andrew did (quickly move on).
Which means this is probably my last chance to mention the particular beef I have with Scott B.: Am I really such chopped liver that you’d allow this comment to remain (sans response) at your personal blog?
“I think Chino Blanco really was looking for a blog on mormon rectal exams …”
I have to admit that I find it amusing that this parallel discussion on my post is made in an effort to be even more snarky than some of the comments we have.
It is additionally amusing that the same criticisms always apply no matter what the topic is.
it’s always either the Brethren, the other members, or “The Church,” but never the folks who aren’t real engaged but still attend Church for other than personal worship and spiritual enlightenment.
Jeff, are you seriously suggesting that the same criticisms always apply (regardless of topic)?
No way. That can’t be.
By the way, what was the topic again?
Chino — I’ll admit that thread is a tad bizarre, but it’s pretty obvious that he started it. Has he prevented you from responding?
Jeff — I’m sorry to come off as picking on you twice in a row. Really, I think it’s interesting to have a discussion that includes a variety of perspectives, and you’ve provided the other side of this one. That said…
I don’t have a horse in this race either way. I’m neither “the church” nor am I someone who attends without being engaged. As a general rule, I like to take a nuanced view and not a simplistic, black-and-white stance. But in this case there is a clear and obvious answer: it is the church, and specifically “correlation”.
The people who make the effort to show up every week but aren’t “engaged” might very well have something to contribute if they weren’t actively prevented from contributing their (unorthodox) perspective. You’d probably be surprised at the constructive, imaginative, fun (and non-threatening!) things they’d add. And the meetings would be more interesting, and you’d see less attrition.
As you wrote, “As it turns out, weve always been surprisingly fit, since way back.”
This midriff seems quite topical.
but since I can’t compete with that, I’ll second your motion to move on. 😀
The best Mormons want to be dutiful and selfless. I’m not sure that “faking it til you make it” captures this fully. In Ty Mansfield’s account In Quiet Desperation, he talked about duty over happiness, but mentioned them as overlapping, because the “joy in this life is not full.” So, for Mormons, life is kinda like smoking. You can enjoy food, sex, or entertainment, but realize there will always be a gnawing feeling of wanting that eternal drag from God’s cigarette. God will pull this cigarette from reach if you engage in certain joys. The best Mormons keep the cigarette in mind at all times, seeing “duty” as a good thing. Young gay Mormons convince themselves that they’re engaged in a kind of clearer thinking than even their hetero counterparts, and certainly clearer thinking than those “gays” outside the Church. But then eventually they realize that the best Mormons also perform hetero-ness within marriage, and that the cigarette in Heaven includes this hetero-ness. At that point, duty and selflessness aren’t explanatory enough and one has to grab onto a host of other pseudo-doctrines, like being “repaired” in Heaven or whatnot.
[we need comment subscription by email so i’m not so late to respond to stuff]
I guess the issue, Jeff, is that we all came from the group “folks who ARE engaged and attend church precisely for personal worship and spiritual enlightenment.”
This wasn’t working out for us, try as we might. And the responses we got: “you’re doin’ it wrong.”
As a result, people shift from one to the other, and the old answers STILL don’t help.
Alan, that cigarette simile went a totally different direction than I was anticipating, and I’m still trying to catch up. I don’t think, even in a cynical way, that God can be likened to a drug pusher like that…
I’ll just chime in late to say that I agree with the whole “do it out of duty” attitude — that was entirely my attitude. I used to bear testimony that the only reason I had to attending church was that “It was True.” I knew *I* hated attendingit was dull, I had no real friends, I knew *everything* that anybody was going to teach, and even when I was a teacher, I couldn’t bring up interesting ideas because most people just sat there waiting for the interestingness to be over (or maybe, just maybe, the ideas weren’t as interesting as I thought). I tried church sports, I tried turning out for all activities, I even was the guy who *always* helped put away chairs. All for naught, it was, since I was just trying to force a spiritual experience, and there was no Spirit to force.
But I stayed, hoping that even if I wasn’t cut out for church, that maybe my kids would get it.
Ironically, it was my young son that first stopped goinghe was told that the purpose of church was to help people be good people, and decided that since he was already a good person, he didn’t need to waste his time going. We followed him out shortly thereafter.
IMHO, dull meetings are just another opportunity for the self-righteous-type mormons to condemn the rest. It’s easy to claim that you felt the Spirit; you don’t need any evidence. If someone dares complain about boredom, the Elite Mormons can look down their nose at them like a Unix geek at a Windows user.
chanson: Re Jeff preventing anything … he hasn’t – at all. This is not a case of whining about commenting privileges: the Bloggernacle is one thing, MM is something else altogether.
It’s simply that Jeff has lately stated over at MM:
“I think the real point is that that change has to start from within the members who attend and those that participate.”
Fair enough. During the past 180 years, how many changes were made out of respect for the prevailing opinion of members? Alternatively, what major changes were made in spite of the opinions of the rank-and-file? Not that it matters. Since Jeff is the one proposing the proper way to solve this crisis of boredom, I’m sure he’s already thought long and hard about the details of implementing a solution.
Goldarn — I loved your comment right up to the last second. But please don’t say the open source *nix user is the Mormon while the guys who accept whatever corporate sh*t Microsoft hands them are the exmos. Not after all the countless hours I’ve wasted at work in the past few weeks installing and re-installing Windows server (after various malfunctions), when I would have loved to F-Disk the whole thing and install a real (Linux) operating system. 😉
“The struggle against religion is…the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. …Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” -Karl Marx
“I dont have a horse in this race either way. ….But in this case there is a clear and obvious answer: it is the church, and specifically correlation.
Sounds like your horse is called: “Blame The Church.”
The Church doesn’t attend every Sacrament Meeting in the world. The Church does not sing for the members, prepare the talks or chat during the meeting. That is completely in the hands of the local leadership and the local members. Now, if you want to discuss the format, that is one thing. I haven’t found the format to be so different from the other Churches I’ve attended.
“The people who make the effort to show up every week but arent engaged might very well have something to contribute if they werent actively prevented from contributing their (unorthodox) perspective. Youd probably be surprised at the constructive, imaginative, fun (and non-threatening!) things theyd add. And the meetings would be more interesting, and youd see less attrition.”
In the lessons I teach ( GD 2x per month, HP 1x per month), I welcome the unconventional, unorthodox perspective. In fact, I like to challenge the conventional view at times. However, in some cases, those with unorthodox views not only want to express them, they are adamant that other’s MUST accept those views.
chanson, face the facts: Mormonism is like FOSS 😀
re 27: CB,
I think that Jeff’s comment there, despite some historical trends with the church, gets into things that other writers at MM have written about. E.g., Stephen Marsh’s “Being Heard When You Complain,” or “On Becoming a [p]rophet (small p)”
There is a kinda of positive and romantic ideal behind grassroots change and the idea that grassroots social currency comes from working in with the rank-and-file, enduring with them, paying dues, etc.,
“This wasnt working out for us, try as we might. And the responses we got: youre doin it wrong.
It doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. But to suggest that things need to be changed because of that may not have validity.
And, the answer that you are dong it wrong, may, in fact be the correct answer. You just may not want to consider that.
As we like to say in German “Was immer”. (OK, I’m kidding, I don’t think they really say that in German, but whatever.)
I may be mistaken on this, but I think the church goes a bit too far in the “preparing the talks” department.
Fab. I totally encourage this, and I’m glad to hear that your ward isn’t micromanaging you.
Since I’m not in your class, I really can’t judge the particular personalities you have there, whether they’re constructive or not.
I know I’m biased on the subject, but I have to say that I think in most of our cases, that was the first possibility we considered.
I guess I don’t readily make the connection between cigs and opium. D.A.R.E. has either greatly succeeded in demonizing cigarettes or greatly failed in demonizing all other drugs. Still…
Those with orthodox views not only want to express them, but will label those who don’t accept them as “unorthodox.” It seems only reasonable that “unorthodox” people be afforded the same privilege from time to time.
Which gets us back to the comment over at MM:
Ive always thought that this misunderstood and over-emphasized approach to grace was a recipe for self-loathing and fatigue. And now were applying it to meeting formats? Lets just get a ward-level prescription of Prozac and pass it around with the bread a water. . .”
Well, since we are not in the mood for subtle humor, I guess I’ll sign off with this one,
“and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
Or maybe not…. :0)
As a seasoned Gospel Doctrine teacher, why not go ahead and name one unorthodox view that is currently being adamantly shoved down your class’s throat?
You can’t, can you, Jeff? :0)
Jeff, It’s not that we aren’t in the mood. I can’t really speak for everyone else, but maybe I’m just not getting the joke. here is what it seems like to me
Irresistible (Dis)translation of joke:
“I think the real point is that change has to start from within the members who attend and those that participate (like me and other faithful, active, engaged members who do not whine or complain). Then and only then, after all WE (faithful, active, engaged members) can do should anything be done to the format itself.”
The joke seems to be, as you later said, “the folks who arent real engaged but still attend Church for other than personal worship and spiritual enlightenment.”
I guess I’m not in the mood for a joke like that. I guess I’m not in the mood for a joke that tries to marginalize people’s experiences with a one-two punch of, “you did it wrong” followed with a gloss-over of exactly what happens when people internalize this mindset: self-loathing and fatigue. I guess I’m not in the mood of a sign-off that — even with a smiley face — implies that since we weren’t manifested the truth of things, then we must not have been sincere, or we must not have had real intent, etc.,
“No man nose my history” ~ :0)
the Joke was “After all WE can do.” A much overused and misunderstood statement as one writer noted. I wrote a whole post on “After all we can do.”
What is so fascinating to me is that you and others can easily impute the motives of just about everyone else, but as soon as you might feel the least bit challenged, you go to “self-loathing and fatigue.” And that you could not have possibly “did it wrong.” Not even a small possibility. But everyone else (especially believing members) and their motives, beliefs and proclivities are all fair game.
I’m not sure I see anyone on this thread “imputing others’ motives.”
My points were the following:
1. Correlation has choked the last bits of life out of LDS meetings by cookbook-micromanaging tasks that could and would be performed better by allowing a little more leeway on the local level.
2. If you can’t even consider the possibility that there might be a problem, then you will never solve the problem (if one exists).
3. Most of us here really did very seriously consider the possibility that we’re “the problem”. In fact, most of us probably sincerely believed that the only reason we didn’t get much out of hearing the same lesson manuals recited over and over was due to our own personal weakness (and only later concluded that that’s not it).
4. The people who like boring meetings (or who have somehow mystifyingly concluded that LDS meetings are not super-humanly boring) tend to stay in the church, whereas those who eventually fail to convince themselves that the three-hour block is a constructive use of their time are more likely to leave.
I gather that you (more or less) agree with me on 2 & 4, but disagree on 1 & 3.
Chanson absolutely said it. I considered for a long time the possibility that it was me and that I needed to change myself in order to get something out of the meetings. I needed to be more in tune with the Spirit. I needed to read the lesson and pray beforehand. I needed to solemnly consider the topic being talked about and pay attention to my own impressions. I needed to add to the discussion by answering questions and sharing experiences. I needed to cultivate a sense of community with the other members of the class. I needed to stop thinking about what I’m getting out of it and try to focus on helping others get what they need.
I bought into all of that implicitly for a long time, yet the chronic dullness never ceased. It turns out that church meetings are not only a waste of my time, but they are soul crushing; mentally and emotionally atrophying. Both my wife and I come home feeling drained and depressed. It’s not just boring, Jeff. It’s actively harmful. It’s not just about flashing colors and upbeat music, Jeff. It’s about freedom of expression, original ideas, and stimulating discussion. Your solution of “participate more” has been tried over and over again. It has failed, Jeff. Miserably.
For some reason, Jeff, I get the feeling that if you spent your entire life trying to make something work that never did, and someone came up to you for the ten thousandth time and told you once again for the ten thousandth time that you were just doing it wrong, you’d probably be less than willing to buy it. Why is it that you assume people here have always been apostates at heart? Why do you assume people who don’t get what you get out of sacrament meeting are not trying correctly or hard enough?
…Is that really what you got out of my comments?
Sounds like your horse is called: Blame The Church.
JS: The Church doesnt attend every Sacrament Meeting in the world.
FF: But it does mandate the length and format and has squashed missionary farewells and homecommings.
JS: The Church does not sing for the members, prepare the talks or chat during the meeting.
FF: But it does mandate the Hymnbook and the type of musical numbers that may (or rather may not) be presented.
FF: But it does assign talks based on Conference talks.
FF: But it doesn’t allow any time for chat, meet & greet or socialization.
Ah, this website is so refreshing. In response to the inset quote: yes, Relief Society was very much the same. What I found was that any and all creativity was funneled into arranging pretty lesson props. I distinctly remember sitting through a lesson in which the teacher had chosen dayglo visual aids from all walks of life, and proceeded to summarize her lesson with: “I just don’t get how people can believe something can become something greater than itself. (Evolution.) It just doesn’t make sense.”
I suppose, in becoming hyperattentive to visual aids, teachers mime the motions of creativity, becoming too preoccupied with that endeavor to, I dunno, hear what they’re saying.
Thanks for the great discussion! I’d like to comment more, but I currently have limited Internet access (see here.
I look forward to reading the new posts as soon as I can!