I really do feel that I’ve lost my religion–lost my faith. It was precious to me, and now it’s essentially gone. I don’t feel I made any evil choices that led to this situation, or at least none that I could have done differently and still been me. In that way, I suppose it feels kind of inevitable, but I hate those implications. Continue reading
I’m supposed to be grading papers, but instead I’m blogging this. I use the term blogging very loosely, because a website that never gets read can’t really be accurately called a blog. But sometimes writing here helps me get my thoughts together and–as long as I back up regularly (!!!)–this might be a nifty adjunct to my nonexistent journal.
Anyway, I argue about politics on Facebook. This has had predictable (but mild) consequences until now: a few people blocked me, a few others quietly ignore anything I say that’s even faintly politically colored, etc. This Fall, however, in the leadup to the 2012 Presidential elections, it got ugly. I try not to post truly nasty things. I don’t post that Fox News watchers are idiots, or that Republicans are fascists or what-have-you… even though I occasionally get these kinds of sentiments from a few of my FB friends, directed at anyone deemed insufficiently conservative. In discussions, I try to be fair, but I also don’t tend to let things go by that make no sense. I try to make my focus more on the process and quality of thinking than on the endpoints of the issues themselves. This has lost me some friends–at least three, by current count. Continue reading
I’m married to an LDS feminist, and it is an interesting experience. By interesting I sometimes mean threatening, terrifying, depressing, and confusing. Also thought-provoking, exciting, stimulating, and enlightening. To my knowledge, my wife has never burned a bra, painted a sign (except to harass the other team at a hockey game), or marched on Washington. She didn’t get into feminism because of delayed college-aged adolescent rebellion against authority structures or conformity to her liberal sistren. In fact, calling her a feminist in the context of this piece, without clarification, is actually a bit misleading and reductionist, because I don’t think she is primarily a feminist; I think she’s primarily a person who cares deeply and thinks carefully. And that’s why (I think she would agree–I didn’t ask her before writing this) she has become the flavor of feminist that she is.
I sometimes wish I could go get a new PhD in something else–in this case, sociology or anthropology, to study LDS people. I’ve been having some odd thoughts about de facto succession of leadership and participation in the church. I feel, lately, that I have seen a pattern emerge from time to time:
- Apparently doctrinally-orthodox member distances him/herself from the church
- Apparently doctrinally less-orthodox member distances him/herself from the church
- #2 comes back
- #1 does not
Of course, it could be my imagination, but this combination of those factors seems to happen a disproportionate amount of the time (not necessarily a majority of the time, though). My seat-of-the-pants hypothesis is this: What if this reflects an underlying difference in styles of belief? Members in category 2 (from the list) might have more of a willingness to acknowledge doubts and uncertainty, or to question orthodoxy, than those from category 1. These differences could lead to different reactions when faith-challenging events occur: A few category 1 members might find that their less-considered faith is fatally threatened by such challenges, while more of the category 2 members, despite initial distancing due to the doubts and disillusionment activated by the challenges, may find that their intellectual foundations (built through years of questioning, doubting, and resolving those things) provide them, ultimately, with answers that lead them back to the Gospel.
This is a standard question among many people of faith, and it assumes a lot of things I really can’t back up with data (so it’s rank speculation). But it feels like at least a hypothesis worth pursuing. But I’m not done yet.
The real kicker, for me, is that–if the process I’ve imagined is really happening–the membership or leadership of the Church may gradually come to be represented more and more by those in category 2, with interesting implications. For example, I think (again, no data) that this style of belief may be favored more by people ultimately drawn, for a variety of reasons, to more liberal social-political views, more intellectual pursuits (higher levels of traditional education?), and a less purely-emotional approach to faith.
The results may or may not be good for the Church in the long run; I don’t know. But this is interesting. The world is run by those who show up for the meetings. The Church is the same way.
Here I am in Austin. I agreed to come along (all expenses allegedly will be paid) for the Texas Faculty Association convention tomorrow. Um, I mean today. Gotta get to sleep. The reason I agreed, despite my busy schedule, is because San Antonio is on the way to Austin, and I hadn’t been to the temple in ages. So I flew from Harlingen through Houston into San Antonio, then went to the temple, then drove to Austin. Seriously, I probably could have driven to Austin in about the same amount of time. But if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have been able to read John Le Carré´s lovely little novel, Call for the Dead, the very first George Smiley book. It’s a sweet little read.
Anyway, everything more or less worked out, and I ended up being at the temple from about 6:30 until 10:00 pm. I was surprised how much I missed it. Then drove here to the hotel in Austin, arriving a little after Midnight, what with missed turns, Google Maps being just flat wrong a few times, etc.
And now here I am, once again, in an opulent hotel room all alone. I know there’s no easy fix for this separation-from-Alex thing, but it seems like there ought to be. :(
Tomorrow I will spend the day voting on things, apparently, in the Union’s headquarters building, right next to the state capitol. Have I mentioned that Austin is a pretty awesome town? It is.
Note: On the way up here, I saw a bumper sticker done up in the color scheme and pattern of the Texas Flag, that just said, “SECEDE”. It got me thinking that it would be pretty cool to collect secessionist paraphernalia. Texas, Alaska, Quebec, New Hampshire, Vermont (I think?), and I’m sure there’s a good deal of posters and whatnot from Eastern and Western Europe. That would be a lifelong hobby, for sure, but you’d have a really interesting collection after a while.
I been thinkin’ (a dangerous pastime, I know). There’s a preponderance of male-centered form and content in traditional Judaism and Christianity\, something that can be demonstrated by simply counting words in religious texts. However, in a crucial area — mating — the doctrine seems to clearly emphasize something much more tuned to women’s evolutionary best interests. Continue reading
Down here in the McAllen, TX stake, we just got split (now there’s a McAllen West stake, too). So we got Dallin H. Oaks, and Apostle of the Church, to visit and give a talk (brief one, as it turns out). It was very spiritual and highly enjoyable. Here are my personal highlights:
1. “Many of you suffer significant disadvantages because of your immigrant status. The Leaders of the Church are aware of this, and pray for you…” It was nice to hear the leaders of a church whose members are sometimes-just-a-bit-uncomfortably-conservative acknowledge a very non-Republican sentiment: the fact that illegal immigrants are humans. Elder Oaks went on to quote a story from the Book of Mormon in which an oppressed group of people prayed really hard, but were not (immediately) rescued from their oppression; instead, they were given the strength to bear their burdens. He also talked a little about his forbears and the general legacy of this church as a church largely of immigrants. He reminded people here that others have gone through similar difficulties, but that their children would benefit from their sacrifices.
2. He jokingly noted the visibly cheerful faces of the just-released former Stake Presidency and said that the Gospel was obviously working. Men are that they might have joy, and these guys obviously looked joyful. Heh heh. Is the subtext here, “Church service: Because it feels so good when you stop”?
3. The best part was when he said, “Young men and young women, you are the future of the Church. Don’t be stupid.” :D He then clarified some details of this admonition, like choosing friends wisely, avoiding physically and spiritually dangerous habits, and (interestingly) not getting tattoos.
It was a fun meeting. Sadly, it didn’t result in me going back to the Edinburg chapel, which is a brief walk from my house. Sigh. 15-minute drive, or 35-minute bike ride.
I just read a thought-provoking opinion piece by Harold Myerson, about U.S. businesses systematically pulling their investments out of westernizing nations like China, and committing to countries like Vietnam, which still have communist economic systems, no unions, no labor laws, low wages, and economic predictability. Communism (in other countries) is good for (our) business. Mr. Myerson ends his piece by suggesting that the American soldiers killed in the Vietnam war “…whose names are on that wall on the Mall probably didn’t realize how compatible with global American enterprise Vietnamese communism would turn out to be or how the cause of democracy would turn out to have been of no real importance at all.”
This essay got me thinking, as I often do, about governments, economics, and religion. The connections here might not be totally apparent at first, but bear with me. Perhaps this will all hang together by the time I’m done.
We Mormons believe that the Founding Fathers of the USA were inspired to develop the system of self-government that was established in New England in the 1770s . We also have a book of scripture detailing struggles between self-government and totalitarian rule in two precolumbian civilizations. Some of us even remember that the ancient nation of Israel had a similar struggle ((The system of judges that was — against the Lord’s wishes — supplanted with a monarchy)), early on. Unfortunately, in the talk about the inspired nature of democracy, we seem to gloss over the issue of economics, lumping it in with the politics.
If you spend any time in LDS groups in the US, you will encounter many people who vigorously defend capitalism and the pursuit of individual wealth. It’s clear that modern revelation allows for this system (I don’t think there’s any special circle of hell reserved for capitalists or business owners), but the scriptures provide much more endorsement of noncapitalist economic systems as the ideal for the Lord’s people. Ancient Israel, the so-called “Primitive Church,” the Nephites (and Lamanites) at their most righteous — all had property systems distinctly different from our modern American/European capitalist system. Even in the mid-19th century, the Church briefly practiced a communal form of property ownership and redistribution ((Notably, this modern implementation failed, because of human greed and short-sightedness. Also notably, there has always been an understanding that the Church will someday be required to try it again.)) with the express goal “…that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low” (D&C 104:16).
Don’t get me wrong; none of these systems was communism, or really even socialism. But they were also most certainly not capitalism, as we know it today ((The case of ancient Israel may seem an exception, and I acknowledge that personal wealth accumulation was allowed under this system, but consider the following facts: nobody could possess, buy, or sell the land in any fundamental way; wages and certain labor conditions were fixed by divine decree; all debts were supposed to be periodically canceled, no matter their size; and usury was restricted. Also please consider the idea that, like our current American capitalist system as regards the American LDS church, the economic system of the ancient Israelites may have been largely a modification of the system of their previous culture, modified by revelation — not a wholesale new economic system put in place by God.))
Back to the present: many Mormons, in my experience, seem to think that, just as liberal ((Conservatives: do not get upset. The term “Liberal Democracy” refers, here, to most republican/democratic systems in the modern world where individuals have liberal amounts of personal freedom. It doesn’t mean we’re all a bunch of tree-huggers.)) democracy is the government system established by God for our time, capitalism is His economic system. The first part (politics) is firmly established by revelation, but I’m not sure they have a leg to stand on, for the second part (economics). Although the Lord clearly tolerates our current American economic system, with its hugely uneven accumulation of individual wealth, I can’t think of a single instance where He recommends it. And I can think of at least a dozen where He either suggests or outright states that inequality in wealth is a Very Bad Thing, especially among the members of His Church.
Why, then, do we hang on to this feeling that our current economic system is inspired (or at least endorsed)? The traditions of our fathers, for one thing. No matter how powerful an ideology or doctrine is, culture often has an influence on people that is nearly impossible to supplant. As my friend Amanda and I were discussing the other day, the flavor of Catholicism is influenced by the cultures in which it has been implemented ((Central and South America are the examples we discussed, and the effect can be striking in those regions)), and the same is true with Mormonism. The Gospel was re-introduced in the fledgling United States, to Americans, and it has had an American flavor ever since. ((Didja ever notice how, when the Gospel was introduced to nomadic livestock-herding tribes in the Middle East, it sorta had that flavor for a while, too?))
Culture can be a harsh mistress. We have mechanisms ((Gossip, mockery, intimidation, shunning, the police, the military, homeowners’ associations)) to pressure cultural deviants either back into the mainstream, or — failing that — completely out of our society as traitors. An unquestioning belief in the divinity of capitalism makes it easier to fit in with friends, co-workers, and fellow students in conservative circles in the US. It certainly makes it easier to feel good about North Americans being the richest people on earth. It makes it easier to buy things we don’t really need at Wal-Mart and Best Buy, while the cultural deviants are going on about consumerism and sweatshops in third-world countries. And it certainly reduces the mental effort required ((Remember, right after 9/11/01, when our government told us that the best way we could fight back against terrorists was to go shopping? Oh, excuse me. I just vomited a little. In my mouth, you know.)) when considering U.S. actions with economic consequences abroad.
Acceptance of our culture reduces the need to think carefully about lots of things.
Of course, acceptance of an alternative culture has exactly the same problems as accepting a dominant culture. Belieeeeve me, I see many of the moral problems inherent in so-called “liberal culture” in the U.S. ((Even though I kinda identify with “liberal culture” at least as much as “conservative culture,” these days.)) I can’t blame anyone who decides that these moral compromises are worse than those involved with “conservative culture,” and puts their eggs in the latter basket.
The world often poses us with untenable options, such as “liberal vs. conservative.” True religion often gives us (and requires of us) outside-the-box choices that don’t fall into any of the prefabricated alternatives presented by our culture. It is my belief that God has — if not a culture, per se — certain critical elements of culture ((You know, kindness, personal integrity, taking care of the poor, etc.)) that He wants implemented in the communities of people who follow His advice, and they don’t always line up nicely behind accepted political opinions. By the same token, there are many aspects of the cultures marinating us that are incompatible with His guidelines.
Although it’s hard for people (like me) who grew up in the Church to realize sometimes, the culture that the Lord would have us adopt may not always seem comfortable or familiar to us.
Human cultures are amazing, complex phenomena. They have emerged over thousands of years, through the fascinating, tawdry, glorious and mundane social processes that we humans wallow in. But to settle comfortably into one of these cultures, and uncritically insist that it is God’s will that we do so is a serious mistake.
Uno: There’s a cool video archive hosted by UT-Austin, of Mike Wallace interviews with all sorts of famous folks in the 1950s. Salvador Dali, a KKK clansman, the Governor of Arkansas who threatened military force to prevent racial integration of the schools, and on and on. The interviews are interesting. Wallace’s 1950s social and political views are noticeable, of course, but the more shocking element is the style of the interviews. The questions are well-researched, refreshingly intelligent, apparently less infused with open political agendas than I’m used to in my lifetime. The most jarring thing was that Wallace actually gave the guests time to respond to questions. Weird.
As noted above, I was impressed by Pearl S. Buck. I had to stop counting the awesome things she said, and the very cool way she said them. There were too many.
Dos: This weekend is General Conference. I went to Priesthood session last night (after a long struggle with laziness), and got to hear President Monson speak (the highly beloved President Hinckley died last month). His speaking style has changed. And he’s the Prophet, for sure. Good to know.
Puddy Tat at the Zoo we visited in Spokane (click for BIG Romeo)
So, stake conference was interesting. We’ve known for months that something was up with changing boundaries, or creating new wards, or something. The Stake President this morning talked all about that. Apparently, we’ll meet again as a stake for a fast & testimony Sacrament meeting on Sept. 30 (this is all very irregular, and therefore, cool) to hear about the details, which were not disclosed today.The process of reorganizing the stake, making new wards, dividing old ones, re-drawing boundary lines, etc., will require quite a number of changes in leadership. New leaders will be called, and as the Stake President put it, “These people do not want these callings, they did not ask for these callings, and in most cases they have no clue. Yet.”
He then went on to add, “…if you get a call from us in the next couple of weeks, please answer the phone.”
We had a combined lesson for Priesthood/Relief Society today. The teacher made some very specific claims about the meaning of selected verses in the second chapter of Joel (but not the troublesome verses in between). I agree with some of his assertions, and the rest are not totally beyond the realm of possibility. However, the most obvious interpretations of those verses, in my mind, do not involve the “closet” that the Bride comes out of as a symbol of the Whitmer farm, nor the “pillars of smoke” referring to the Twin Trade Towers. Continue reading
Alex rocking out on Christmas Day.
News: Continue reading