Once You Figure Out God Is a Jerk

church attendance God himself Sacrament Meeting Science secularization

So, I heard some years ago that religious people tend to be happier and healthier.  It didn’t especially jive with my experience, but hey, it’s what the scientific data say, right?

Here’s an interesting piece from the NY Times, corroborating and explaining some of the benefits of “religious attendance — [or] at least, religiosity” the reasons for which are “not entirely clear”.  Some of the benefit derives first from “social support [which] is directly tied to better health” and second from “healthy behavior” (” on average, regular church attendees drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous than others”).

But the author also suggests a third factor, something rooted in the imaginative and intellectual experience of creating a relationship with an immaterial being:

I want to suggest that this is a skill and that it can be learned. We can call it absorption: the capacity to be caught up in your imagination, in a way you enjoy. What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale. Increasingly, other studies bear out this observation that the capacity to imagine a loving God vividly leads to better health.

For example, in one study, when God was experienced as remote or not loving, the more someone prayed, the more psychiatric distress she seemed to have; when God was experienced as close and intimate, the more someone prayed, the less ill he was. In another study, at a private Christian college in Southern California, the positive quality of an attachment to God significantly decreased stress and did so more effectively than the quality of the person’s relationships with other people.

She goes on to posits possible benefits even beyond those who want to believe in God. Perhaps it

may teach us how to harness the “placebo” effect — a terrible word, because it suggests an absence of intervention rather than the presence of a healing mechanism that depends neither on pharmaceuticals nor on surgery. We do not understand the placebo effect, but we know it is real. That is, we have increasingly better evidence that what anthropologists would call “symbolic healing” has real physical effects on the body. At the heart of some of these mysterious effects may be the capacity to trust that what can only be imagined may be real, and be good.

I find this all pretty intriguing, because I have had some remarkable experiences with an unseen world that I cannot and frankly prefer not to explain.  I mean, it’s unseen!  I don’t know enough about it.  It might be this externally verifiable thing, or it might be just an idea that is very real to me.

I believe in the realness of ideas.  Fictional characters are not real people, but they are real ideas.  Heavenly Mother is, to me, a real idea, a real idea with real potential.  So is Edward Cullen.  He’s a bad idea, but he’s a real idea.  Elizabeth Bennet (the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, in case you don’t know) is a terrific idea!  Cinderalla is a hyper-real idea–she’s so real she’s an achetype for us.  All these ideas, although they are only ideas, have had real effects on the world.

We can see the same thing with political ideologies.  Consider the idea that one race is superior to others, that one gender is superior to the other(s), or all that men are created equal.  These are all real ideas, and they become more or less “true” as we believe in them more or less.

The problem with the character of God as he exists in the Mormon fiction about him is that he’s an asshole.  It takes an act of willful blindness not to see this.  And once you see this, praying to him creates greater and greater psychic and “psychiatric distress,” as the author put it.

Furthermore, in Mormonism he’s such a nasty, vicious douche that even once you realize that there are nicer versions of him out there–versions where he’s not racist, misogynist and homophobic, anti-intellecual and obsessed with the minutea of dietary codes, pruriently obsessed with his children’s sex lives, and gleefully sentencing to hell women who hate polygamy–the taint of his cruelty and barbarity lingers on. It’s really HARD to replace that asshole with a kinder, gentler version.  After all, the whole atonement thing, the requirement that some of his children execute his favorite son as a condition of anyone being able to hang out with him, is pretty barbaric and cruel.  The idea that the atonement shows love is somehow real, despite being absolutely nonsensical.

Once you figure all that out, it’s easy, even when you read an article like this one, to do the math: “Let’s see: going to church can add up to three years to your life.  Three times 365 is 1095 days.  But you have to go to church every Sunday.  If you started going to church as an infant and live to be 75, that’s 3900 days.  Even if you skip a few Sundays here and there, that’s still at least three times as many days that you LOSE to church throughout your life as you GAIN BACK from at it at the end.  Hmm.  I’ll stick with having Sunday off, thank you very much.”

 

46 thoughts on “Once You Figure Out God Is a Jerk

  1. Fascinating article!

    From what I’ve read about the so-called “placebo effect,” having the opportunity to talk about your problems to someone who listens and is concerned about you has a huge psychological (and, for some problems, consequent physiological) impact. If you don’t have such a person in your life, you can derive real benefit from what the author calls “absorption” — the ability to express yourself and believe that a loving God is listening.

    From my own experience, I’d say it’s quite possible to do this without believing that there’s some external, sentient entity that you’re actually communicating with.

    Whether one literally believes or not, I agree it’s a real shame that in our culture the loving, external figure people are encouraged to picture is such an asshole. And not just the God of Mormonism — the God of Mormonism is cruel and barbarous because He’s based on the cruel and barbarous God of the Old Testament, and the God of the NT isn’t much better than His good-cop sidekick…

  2. From my own experience, I’d say it’s quite possible to do this without believing that there’s some external, sentient entity that you’re actually communicating with.

    From my own as well. I also think it’s possible to learn to “talk” and to “listen” to your own body in ways that are profoundly informative and can have profound effects.

    But I also think it’s necessary to remind yourself of the constructed nature of any such “conversation” when you have one.

    Whether one literally believes or not, I agree it’s a real shame that in our culture the loving, external figure people are encouraged to picture is such an asshole.

    yeah. I really don’t see why anyone would want to forever with that guy. Seems like a punishment rather than a reward. And I also think that it is often one of the great tragedies of religion that people really do become more like the god they worship.

  3. here’s something that just showed up in my facebook feed: a brief piece with links to a couple of essays exploring “the links between beliefs and anxiety disorders like social dysfunction, paranoia, obsession and compulsion.”

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/17/study-belief-in-an-angry-god-associated-with-variety-of-mental-illnesses/

    Not surprisingly, there seems to be a link between mental illness and believing that God is both A) real and B) asshole. Totally makes sense that it could mess if you were convinced that there is a supernatural being out there who knows your most secret thoughts, watches your every action, understands your desires even better than you do, and judges you when he doesn’t approve of them. Totally makes sense that you’d feel more confident and happy if you had managed to persuade yourself that the greatest force in the entire universe was on your side and pulling strings to make things work out for you.

    What I don’t understand is how people convince themselves of the latter when the former is aggressively promoted in all the primary texts of Judeo-Christianity. Sure, there’s stuff there about “God is love” and “God loves everyone” blah blah blah. But given the other stuff, it’s about as convincing as when a brutal parent who regularly kicks the shit out of his kids stands over one of them as they cower in the corner and shouts, “hey! I love you! Why are you resisting the punishment I’m inflicting on you? Don’t you know it’s just? Don’t you know my decisions are always right? Don’t you know I punish and chasten you for your own good? Don’t you know I do it because I love you? I TOTALLY LOVE YOU! I love you so much, in fact, that love is my defining attribute!”

    The dad could say that until he’s blue in the face. But only a truly psychotic person would ever believe it. Rather than worrying about whether he loves you or hates you, the healthiest thing to do is leave home and escape the brutal bastard. Leave him to work out his jacked-up definition of love on his own.

  4. What I don’t understand is how people convince themselves of the latter when the former is aggressively promoted in all the primary texts of Judeo-Christianity.

    I think the articles give the answer: The latter promotes mental health and well-being and the former promotes mental illness. People often find ways of acting in their own interest, and a little self-suggestion isn’t much to ask when so much is on the line.

    The next obvious question is How did this abusive-parent-God get to be the central character in these religious texts if a loving God is a more healthy belief?

    For that one, it’s probably necessary to view the texts in their cultural context. In a culture with a lifespan that is half the length of ours, mental health may have been a nice-to-have, but wasn’t necessarily the factor that would keep you and your kin alive the longest, as it is today.

  5. Alternatively — when living in a situation where many/most children die before reaching adulthood and where parents commonly die before seeing their children to adulthood — belief in an all-loving God may have been more crazy-making than belief in a capricious-jerk God.

  6. The next obvious question is How did this abusive-parent-God get to be the central character in these religious texts if a loving God is a more healthy belief?

    That is indeed a good question. I think it’s more complicated than either of the options you offer. Early Calvinism was so thoroughly, thoroughly cruel–to everyone but the elect, and they were loved without condition. It was a very different experience for those who were converted t0 it as adults and those who were born into it. Those who actually experienced grace spontaneously upon encountering Calvinism felt it was the loving religion of a god who at least loved them; those born into it, who struggled to recreate for themselves the sense of a sure election that their parents found so easily, were, as often as not, overwhelmed by God’s cruelty. The frequency with which 17th-century Calvinists committed suicide was notoriously high and used as evidence that their religion could not be true. Despite that, they still continued to gain converts, because some people did just find something loving and generous in the doctrine.

  7. Here’s a book I read on the topic in grad school: The Persecutory Imagination: English Puritanism and the Literature of Religious Despair< . Utterly fascinating stuff–I found it so interesting that I would buy a copy if it didn’t cost almost $150.

    Although something called Calvinism remains, it’s a significantly diluted version of its ancestor. The successor to New England Puritanism was called Congregationalism, and that’s what Joseph Smith’s family adhered to, at least his grandparents. A few people have written on the vestiges of Puritanism and/or Congregationalism that also appeared in Mormonism–an emphasis on journal-writing, for instance.

  8. Anyway, the point is, the view of god as loving on the one hand and brutally cruel on the other not only exists within a single text, but within a single religion at any given time, within a single family, and, depending on what a person is experiencing, even within a single individual.

    (Sorry it has taken me three comments to say all that–it’s early and my thoughts aren’t coalescing as quickly as I would like.)

  9. this is a good place to post a link to an article I’ve been meaning to write about for weeks: “Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems.”

    Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group. The RTS label provides a name and description that affected people often recognize immediately. Many other people are surprised by the idea of RTS, because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. Just like telling kids about Santa Claus and letting them work out their beliefs later, people see no harm in teaching religion to children.

    Funny how you find time to write about some things and not others. The NY Times piece appeared on a Sunday morning, so I could actually devote a post to it.

  10. Those who actually experienced grace spontaneously upon encountering Calvinism felt it was the loving religion of a god who at least loved them; those born into it, who struggled to recreate for themselves the sense of a sure election that their parents found so easily, were, as often as not, overwhelmed by God’s cruelty.

    This is a very interesting point. A doctrine that feels comforting to some may feel cruel to others. That certainly plays out in Mormonism where some fit cozily into the emphasis on conformity and the long list of straight-forward rules whereas many others find the same constraints chafing and hurtful.

    I think there are a number of different factors at play here, and that my suggestion @5 may be part of why some of the tales from Genesis worked for the culture that produced them.

    When things are going reasonably well, it’s very easy to imagine that — despite bad things happening in the world — it all evens out in God’s plan. However, when people experience cruel injustices first-hand, it sometimes causes more psychological distress to feel a need to reconcile tragedy with a belief in an all-loving God than it does to accept that there is no grand plan, and sometimes stuff just happens.

    (Example: When a parent with young kids dies, it doesn’t cut it to say “God needed her as an angel” cuz WTF is wrong with God that He couldn’t see that her babies needed her more?)

  11. @9 I know how that goes. The piece from the OP reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write a post about the type of community provided by a congregation, and whether it is possible to such communities in our modern world (without necessarily relying on shared myths).

    The author of the article mentions the community aspect, but kind of breezes past it to focus on the effects of the beliefs, but I don’t think it should be treated as peripheral — I think that community-building is one of the biggest roles that religion plays in people’s lives.

  12. However, when people experience cruel injustices first-hand, it sometimes causes more psychological distress to feel a need to reconcile tragedy with a belief in an all-loving God than it does to accept that there is no grand plan, and sometimes stuff just happens.

    Yep. Hence the importance of the Book of Job and the uselessness of the three friends who try to convince Job that what has happened to him is somehow just.

    @11: the article on religious trauma includes this:

    groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. The book, Healthy Religion, describes these traits. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals. They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule. More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.

  13. Love your math. Can you do my taxes?

    Never could make sense of the 17th century. Thirty Year War, burning of witches and Heretics–The pious certainly were busy.
    In England, there was the Petition of Right in 1628 and the Bill of Rights in 1689. Along with massive world wide land grabs, displacements of native peoples and the expansion of the slave trade to finance these Godly endeavors. And closer to home, Drogheda and Wexford.
    It amazes me that people who proclaimed they had Civil Rights from a loving God, could so systematically deprive others of these rights.

    While I do not know the psychology of it all. I have long thought, ecological reasons should not be overlooked.
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/10/climate-change-war/
    Can’t help but wonder, if the vestiges of what remains, will receive renewed vigor.

  14. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.

    That’s very cool and encouraging, yet it’s not precisely what I’m talking about. I wonder if it is possible to create more general long-term congregation-like communities that aren’t centered around any kind of shared beliefs about the supernatural.

    You mentioned on this earlier thread that the Unitarians are growing. I would guess that the growth isn’t just from atheists. It’s probably also agnostics, apatheists, and believers who don’t like being pressured to constantly affirm a particular set of beliefs about the supernatural — simply because that isn’t the aspect of the church experience that has meaning to them.

  15. Suzanne @13:

    Love your math. Can you do my taxes?

    LOL… maybe if they’re easy. Every year I wait longer than I should to do my taxes, and every year I am surprised to find that I doing them slightly enjoyable.

    I also find the 17th century confusing. A medievalist friend and I once had a conversation about which centuries sucked. The 17th was at the top of our list.

    Chanson @14:

    That’s very cool and encouraging, yet it’s not precisely what I’m talking about. I wonder if it is possible to create more general long-term congregation-like communities that aren’t centered around any kind of shared beliefs about the supernatural.

    That is a good question. Perhaps it would involve thinking differently about groups that already exist? Something like the Elks Club, maybe, for lack of a better example, but more inclusive and with more meetings?

  16. Yeah, probably something like that, only with some magical means of making it more enticing than staying home to watch television or play video-games…. 😉

  17. Or rather, kids prefer to stay home, all other things being equal. One of my friends who lives in Utah County was surprised when her 8-year-old started asking to go to church. The poor little girl was tired of being told she was going to hell and having people unwilling to play with her. Once the other little Mormons saw her at church, life became much easier, for the daughter if not the mother.

  18. @18 Yes, that Utah County example is exactly what I’m getting at. In our modern world, it would be fantastic if we could have some popular system of community organizations where the inclusion/exclusion isn’t based on your particular beliefs about god(s).

    Here in Zürich there are lots of immigrants from all over the world, and (like in most major cities of the world) it’s a challenge to get everybody integrated and build a sense of community across belief, race, and country-of-origin lines.

    Churches dominate almost every neighborhood here, and they have tons of resources because Switzerland is one of those countries where part of your tax bill goes to whatever religion you identify as (unless you opt out), so having a lot of nominal members in a rich country makes for a lot of money.

    If you go to these churches and look at their posted bulletins, you can see that they host all sorts of cultural and community-related events and activities during the week. Stuff that might help people integrate… if only it weren’t offered in a context that excludes… if only it were possible to join the group and participate regularly without it being a statement about your beliefs.

    A local friend (also non-believing) said that if this or that activity looked interesting, I could probably attend without it being a statement about my beliefs. Maybe so. But wouldn’t it be great to have a similar neighborhood club where a local Muslim mom would feel totally comfortable attending events regularly with her kids and maybe make friends with local Swiss moms or with people from other random countries (like me)?

    I should probably look harder at the various offerings in my neighborhood. I’m sure there are secular clubs, but having something you have to look for isn’t the same as having something in the dominant building in the neighborhood that people can’t help but see. Speak of the devil, I can hear the neighborhood church bonging its bell right now…

  19. I’m sure there are secular clubs, but having something you have to look for isn’t the same as having something in the dominant building in the neighborhood that people can’t help but see.

    Yes. I know there are all sorts of community offerings here in SLC through things like the library, some of which I’ve taken advantage of and most of which I ignore. If I were ambitious, I could find others. But I don’t really want to have to go someplace on Sunday morning. 🙂

  20. Holly @8:

    Anyway, the point is, the view of god as loving on the one hand and brutally cruel on the other not only exists within a single text, but within a single religion at any given time, within a single family, and, depending on what a person is experiencing, even within a single individual.

    I forgrounded this is my Mormon/queer Dialogue article, by talking about how when it comes to gayness in the Church, the leaders use both “merciful” and “wrathful” language: merciful in the sense of “Oh, this trial is tough, God loves you” and wrathful in the sense of, “If you act on your attractions, God finds that an abominable sin” and you’re not welcome into the highest kingdom, etc.

    Even if the God in Mormonism is seemingly no longer that the one the breathes hellfire like He did in 19th century, His cruelty works in the sense of ripping you from His “presence,” and I agree with Holly– what is so special about this “presence?” In Mormonism, there’s the “become a god yourself,” so I guess presence refers to a series of Creation 101 classes with God in front of a chalkboard. And if you’re ripped from His presence, you might try to look in through the windows, but God lowers (or most likely, the righteous students lower) the blinds.

    I think the stark dichotomy of “mercy/love” and “wrath” goes a long way to explain some mental illness and suicidal feelings, and it also goes a long way to understand how the church works on an everyday basis to accommodate difference, but strive for sameness. After a gay suicide, for example, a church leader will say something like, “We need to love our children more (mercy); but I’m sad that the child felt s/he couldn’t keep on fighting the good fight (wrath).”

  21. Alan @21:

    In Mormonism, there’s the “become a god yourself,” so I guess presence refers to a series of Creation 101 classes with God in front of a chalkboard.

    I really like this. I always found the whole “return to live with god forever” thing incompatible with the “go be a god in your own right” thing. This is a good way they can be reconciled. Though it’s probably some sort of super celestial high tech touch screen instructional assistance device thingy he’s using instead of a chalkboard. 🙂

    it also goes a long way to understand how the church works on an everyday basis to accommodate difference, but strive for sameness.

    Yes. The message is, “God loves you just as you are, in all your uniqueness–that’s precisely why he wants you to be exactly like him and all of his other righteous followers, and why he is so disappointed when you fail and wrathful if you flat-out refuse!”

  22. Saw it. It follows a long conversation I was involved in there about Ordain Women and heavenly mother. I referenced in it my most recent comment on that other thread:

    [the cartoon] posits a heavenly father knowably and reliably like an earthly father, only better. It’s circulating on facebook and the blogosphere–and people LOVE it. “Yes!” many say. “I know that’s what God is really like. I know that’s what his love for me is like.” Others say, “I haven’t experienced enough of this. I *hope* that’s what God is like.”

    But when it comes to using the same logic and extrapolating from all the church rhetoric about family and parenting and equality to figure something out about heavenly mother? From [various commenters], we get nonsense like this:

    “Oh! That’s completely different! We can’t know anything about that! We have no idea how a goddess would behave! We have no way of guessing what celestial equality looks like! We don’t know if God means ‘equality’ when he says he equality! And anyway, it doesn’t matter, because Heavenly Father decreed what gender would mean, and that means that Heavenly Mother is who he says she has to be! And anyway, we can’t actually understand ANYTHING about God!”

    Whatever.

    I’m willing to start with other premises when it comes to god. I personally am willing to entertain the notion that god is not actually a being, that god is more like a force, an inanimate expression of consciousness and perfect love that imbues the entire universe with meaning. Start with that premise, and you’ll end up with very different conclusions about what goddesshood might be like and what it would mean for a human woman to eventually attain it.

    But start, as Mormons do, with the premise that God is a resurrected, glorified human man who A) remembers his mortal existence both because he remembers everything and because living a righteous mortal life is how he became god and B) is married to a woman (or women) who is/are his equal(s) and C) loves his children and D) is knowable to us through our shared humanity and the fact that we have the ability to become just like him if we are also righteous human beings, and you arrive logically at another set of conclusions.

    And to assert that we cannot use the doctrine we already have to understand something of what the goddess might be like is nonsense.

    And to assert … that the Ordain Women movement is not already grounded in Mormon doctrine is also nonsense.

  23. Wow, that is quite a fascinating discussion over on that thread! The whole “ordain women” movement is so exciting!

    Tangential, but of course I agree with this comment. The list of things the CoJCoL-dS has traditionally been willing to take the heat for includes a lot of fighting against equality (racial, gender, orientation). Even if the ordain women movement succeeds (which it probably will, eventually), I don’t foresee the CoJCoL-dS ever moving away from its role as a support system for people who prefer inequality.

  24. @25:

    Even if the ordain women movement succeeds (which it probably will, eventually), I don’t foresee the CoJCoL-dS ever moving away from its role as a support system for people who prefer inequality.

    I don’t either, especially since even among LDS who profess to want equality for others, there’s this idea that people who don’t have it must somehow earn it before they get it, that they aren’t just already entitled to it. See this post and comment thread at Exponent II for what I mean.

  25. When people greatly invest themselves in something, sometimes they tend to create meaning in that investment.
    If I walked miles to school, barefoot through icy snowdrifts as a blizzard raged on, chased by wolves and bears and a homicidal maniac with a chainsaw, I would think up some deep meaning to it all. It keeps me walking.
    And if someone suggested school buses, I could see myself opposed. I need to protect that which gives me meaning, even if I have to create snowdrifts throughout eternity.

  26. @27 So true!

    So, part of the reason the CoJCoL-dS is so beyond hope is the fact that so many people who aren’t OK with devoting their lives to an institution that’s stuck in the 1850’s have left, and so many people who are still in have attached deep meaning to their second-class status.

    But different people are attached to different aspects of the church experience, so it’s totally normal for there to be a lot of women who are willing to invest a great deal of effort in trying to drag the CoJCoL-dS, kicking and screaming, out of the 1850’s

    Those discussions you’ve been participating in, Holly, are amazing. I’m thanking my lucky stars that I don’t need to be part of that organization because otherwise some of the stuff that’s being said (even by people who claim to be feminists and/or sympathetic to female ordination) would have me tearing my hair out!

    Seriously, Mormon women need to be more passive and (invisibly) “remove stumbling blocks” to get a priestesshood with its own separate-but-unequal hierarchy? And it’s somehow anti-feminist to ask for the priesthood from the men who have it? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot…?

  27. @29:

    Those discussions you’ve been participating in, Holly, are amazing. I’m thanking my lucky stars that I don’t need to be part of that organization because otherwise some of the stuff that’s being said (even by people who claim to be feminists and/or sympathetic to female ordination) would have me tearing my hair out!

    NO KIDDING. This is my service project and my form of volunteering. And it’s stinkin’ HARD.

  28. One of the most fascinating components is how Valerie Hudson Cassler is lauded for inventing her own doctrine (that presents the status quo as somehow “feminist”) when in practically every other circumstance doctrinal “speculation” has become the cardinal sin. (Notably, “speculating” about the simplest and most obvious consequences of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother…)

  29. @32: I guess that’s what you can get away with if your goal is to make the status quo look like it’s the best of all possible situations.

  30. From the controversial article:

    However, I must also confess to a strong reaction, which has no label in our language, but feels like the urge to laugh and to cry at the same time. As a feminist, the idea that men would ever have the right or ability to give women divine power strikes me as deeply anti-feminist. Are we saying that only with the permission of men and by the hand of men can women partake of divine power? And that since male permission has not been forthcoming to this point, women in fact possess no divine power at present? That we women are reduced to pleading with men to give us our power? A laugh wells up in me at the sheer irony of this “feminist” position, but at the very same moment, I also feel to weep bitter tears in the realization that only a profoundly toxic culture for women could produce a situation where good-hearted women and men advocate an anti-feminist position as a step forward for women.

    The natural interpretation of this is that to escape from the inequality of CoJCoL-dS you have to realize that the LDS priesthood power/authority is nothing more than a dream, and that if you click your heels together and wake up to reality world, you’ll realize that you don’t need to “sustain” the priesthood leaders since they have no real power over you. If you believe in and sustain their power, then her assessment is incredibly insulting.

  31. The natural interpretation of this

    OK, that’s where you went wrong 🙂 : there’s no “natural” interpretation of any of this.

    I mean, I find ways to talk about all these various things in these conversations, but it’s not “natural.”

    You are of course absolutely right: LDS priesthood power IS a dream. But no one Hudson is speaking to wants to wake up from it.

  32. OK, “logical”? “reasonable”…? Perhaps those don’t work either. 😉

    But seriously, her logic almost works if you interpret it as “You don’t need to abase yourself asking men for the priesthood because the priesthood isn’t real.”

    In the context of LDS beliefs, though, one of the biggest unique doctrines that they’ll stand up for is that the LDS priesthood has real, special power, and that it is the only authority to perform important ordinances such as baptism. And that a person only gets the priesthood by having someone who has it give it to them. So, duh, that means people who want it have to get it from men (if you believe men are currently the only ones who have it).

    Unless she’s suggesting that Heavenly Mother will come down in person and ordain some 14-year-old girl. That would be awesome! Frankly, it’s about time HM got visitation rights and custody over this planet. 😉

  33. But seriously, her logic almost works if you interpret it as “You don’t need to abase yourself asking men for the priesthood because the priesthood isn’t real.”

    but that’s absolutely not her logic. The priesthood is very real, but so is women’s divine power–you know, the ability to have babies. It’s what makes them necessary, and anyone who doesn’t want women to be fertile and to give birth for all eternity wants to make women unnecessary, as we’ve discussed here.

    She is such an anti-feminist that she can’t even imagine that women don’t have to be necessary, that they just have the right to exist, period, amen, the end. Nope. Something has to make us necessary.

    In the context of LDS beliefs, though, one of the biggest unique doctrines that they’ll stand up for is that the LDS priesthood has real, special power, and that it is the only authority to perform important ordinances such as baptism. And that a person only gets the priesthood by having someone who has it give it to them. So, duh, that means people who want it have to get it from men (if you believe men are currently the only ones who have it).

    Yes. That is a good point, and the logic behind it supports a point I made on fMh:

    The silliness of Hudson’s position becomes apparent when you place it in any other context. To wit: “Please do not misunderstand. I am not opposing the enfranchisement of women to political power [by giving them the right to vote]. Not at all—I am suggesting they already possess political power and authority, and not by the hand of men and not by the ‘permission’ of men.”

    It is ludicrous to assert that some sort of innate, uncodified personal power trumps or even equals officially bestowed and recognized power in settings and positions that require and rely on precisely that official power such as governing or decision-making bodies. But that is precisely what Hudson has done.

    If the Suffragists had held Hudson’s position, we probably still would not be able to vote. Of course women had just as much innate, god-given right as men to participate in the processes by which their societies were governed–they just lacked any official means for doing so or for having that right recognized and respected. What happened in the Suffragist movement was that the controlling powers–in other words, men–acknowledged and recognized women’s innate right by granting women the official right to vote.

    Likewise, by ordaining women, the LDS church will not suddenly create for women a power they did not already have; the church will simply be acknowledging officially women’s power and their right to exercise it in official venues.

    it is astonishing that Hudson can’t see this. I never had a class with Hudson and can’t attest to her brilliance, so perhaps someone who knows her can tell me how she could get this matter so very, very wrong.

    back to Chanson:

    Unless she’s suggesting that Heavenly Mother will come down in person and ordain some 14-year-old girl. That would be awesome! Frankly, it’s about time HM got visitation rights and custody over this planet.

    No kidding. But that would rock various boats too much. Plus I don’t think Hudson even has enough imagination to come up with an idea like that. Divine women are necessary to her plan of salvation in that they breed, but they are not necessary to the running of a planet.

  34. In case people want to check out the Hudson and don’t feel like clicking around to find it, here’s a link: “Ruby Slippers on Her Feet: Reflections on the OrdainWomen Website” by V. H. Cassler, SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 1 (Spring 2013)

    It’s published under V.H. Cassler (Cassler is her husband’s name) instead of Valerie Hudson for some reason–well, for the obvious reason that SquareTwo is her blog and V.H. Cassler is her blogging name and she doesn’t want the Square Two stuff to come up on a google search of her professional name. But she also wants to pretend that SquareTwo is not just a blog, so she calls it a journal, gives it volume and issue numbers. and considers “Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 200 words” only by email.

  35. I think you two are being too hard on Sister Hudson. It takes considerable imagination and skill to come up with an off the wall concept and then cloth it in language and style that gives the illusion of being grounded in Mormon doctrine, but at the same time offering a liberating solution to rigid thinking that has crept in among the fold, while all the while simply reinforcing the status quo.

    You have to be impressed with the account she give of her exchange with Richard Sherlock, a professor at Utah State, who left the LDS Church and joined the Catholic Church. She writes: ‘when I finally reached Richard Sherlock by phone after hearing of his conversion to Catholicism, the first question out of my mouth was, “Do you no longer believe you have a Mother in Heaven?” to which he replied that it was “unnecessary” to hold that belief. That is a gendered stance, to be sure: no LDS woman would have ever said such a thing.’

    So believing in Mother in Heaven is the most important thing to her in all of Mormon doctrine and practice? Really. I know a number of LDS women who do not think it is important to believe in a Mother in Heaven. In fact, of all the things Mormons are required to believe and support, as specified by the temple recommend questions (for example), apparently there has never been a prophet yet who thought it essential to profess a belief in Mother in Heaven to gain exaltation. Well, Richard Sherlock may not believe in Mother in Heaven, but he at least gets to petition the Mother of Jesus in prayer. That seems like a step up from Sister Hudson’s version of Mormon feminism that is confined to just speculating about Mother in Heaven ( all the while, being careful to stay within the acceptable bounds established by the Brethren).

  36. Hi Parker–

    You have a pretty strong point here:

    It takes considerable imagination and skill to come up with an off the wall concept and then cloth it in language and style that gives the illusion of being grounded in Mormon doctrine, but at the same time offering a liberating solution to rigid thinking that has crept in among the fold, while all the while simply reinforcing the status quo.

    I admit I don’t know anyone else who can do quite what she is doing, and I think I know many people who would probably envy both her skill in the matter and what she gets away with.

    Hudson is simply wrong that “no LDS woman would have ever said such a thing” as that a belief in Heavenly Mother is unnecessary. Check out this conversation about Heavenly Mother on Ask Mormon Girl: a couple of women express discomfort with the idea of Heavenly Mother. Someone named Julie writes

    I’m a woman, a mother, a liberal feminist and a devout Mormon, and I don’t believe in Heavenly Mother. More specifically, I don’t believe we know whether or not she’s there…. In fact I see it as the ultimate expression of patriarchy to decide that God is a married man, the head of a household, who delegates the female parts of godhood to a wife (or, much worse, to wives). I understand that for many people she’s an idea of inexpressible comfort, and that for many feminists she makes Mormonism palatable, and I respect and honor that and have no wish to pick a fight with anyone. But I would like to create space in the world for people who don’t believe in her — who in fact, find the idea of her toxic to their notion of God, and who are deeply uncomfortable with the LDS’s tacit embrace of the idea of her. Just as there’s room in our theology to believe in her, there’s room in our theology not to. Since she is not an article of absolute creed or faith, and she appears nowhere in the scriptures, I would argue that there’s enough ambiguity on the subject for beliefs to go either way. To me, the idea of HM bifurcates God, and I see God as so wonderfully whole and complete, as the author of my femininity just as fully as he’s the author of my sons’ masculinity.

    someone named Rachel writes

    I’m a (very) recent convert to the church and I have to admit that the idea of a Holy Mother has been very difficult for me. I’ve always grown up with the idea that God is beyond human definition and has no gender. While I have accepted most of the tenants of the LDS faith, this is one that I’ve really struggled with, even though I realize it’s pretty central. I have no problem with God appearing in the form of a man, I just can’t force the idea of a gendered God with a wife into my head.

    Deal with that, Valerie.

    That seems like a step up from Sister Hudson’s version of Mormon feminism that is confined to just speculating about Mother in Heaven ( all the while, being careful to stay within the acceptable bounds established by the Brethren).

    Almost everything seems a step up from Sister Hudson’s version of things.

  37. by the way, this is Richard Sherlock:

    One should never leave the religion in which one was born or raised for anything but the most serious of reasons. Warm feelings, family, friends, a social ethos, should never be the reason for joining or leaving a religion. The fact that you do not like the priest, pastor or parishioners should never be a reason for staying or leaving. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have never been a person to “go with the flow” or seek popularity. I was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War and I have a 1-0 draft card to prove it. I have been an absolute opponent of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment my whole adult life. When I was a professor of moral theology at Fordham University in the mid-1980’s I happily defended the view that artificial birth control is morally wrong. This was at a time when many, if not most, actually Catholic moral theologians wouldn’t do so, or wouldn’t do so strongly. I have not left religion or Christianity. But I have left Mormonism. I have become a deeper, more intellectual, more spiritual and truer Christian than I have ever been, literally. I am converting to the Roman Catholic Church. All true roads do lead to Rome.

    Catholicism is probably a better fit for him.

    Here’s is Hudson’s reaction.

  38. Warm feelings, family, friends, a social ethos, should never be the reason for joining or leaving a religion. The fact that you do not like the priest, pastor or parishioners should never be a reason for staying or leaving.

    Sounds like a straw-man interpretation of people who leave a toxic environment for a healthy one. If his conversion is so wonderful, the argument for it shouldn’t be so dependent on speculative (negative) judgments of other people’s choices.

  39. @42: Yeah, I see no reason whatsoever why “social ethos” shouldn’t be a reason for leaving or joining a church, in and of itself. And even if the things he dismisses as inadequate perhaps are as individual reasons, cumulatively they can add up to something pretty persuasive.

  40. The thing that was interesting to me was that in most cases you could transpose “Catholic” and “Mormon” and the argument works either way. I wish he had said that he found joy and meaning in the Catholic Church and he is convinced he can be a better Christian as a Catholic, than as a Mormon. Otherwise it just became one more religionist bearing testimony to the truthfulness of his/her chosen religion. In the end, in spite of his heart/head balanced approach, it was all heart. Then you add “trust God,” as an explanation for all of the things that don’t make sense, and you have the components of the story that underlies all religions.

  41. Yes, despite his insistence that social ethos isn’t a valid reason to change religions, it seems to have been part of his reasoning–hence the whole list of ways that he was so conservative, even as a Mormon.

  42. @44 That’s a good observation. It’s very interesting to see a testimony transfer from one true church to another.

    Also:

    I think you two are being too hard on Sister Hudson. It takes considerable imagination and skill to come up with an off the wall concept and then cloth it in language and style that gives the illusion of being grounded in Mormon doctrine, but at the same time offering a liberating solution to rigid thinking that has crept in among the fold, while all the while simply reinforcing the status quo.

    I agree with you that it’s impressive.

    Yet, it’s not surprising that the LDS church would have a woman who can make such an elaborate case for gender segregation. It’s like Suzanne’s point @27: There are a huge number of women who have invested meaning in their separate-and-unequal gender roles. If now 12 year old girls can step up and bless the sacrament, women can baptize their converts and kids, women can give their kids (or husbands!) blessings, preside over their congregations, etc., then that renders meaningless the sacrifices of all the women who were denied these opportunities.

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