Sunday, March 29, 2009

If it Makes You Happy

In Elder's Quorum today the teacher testified that keeping the commandments makes you happy. He then asked the class what we would say to someone who doesn't keep the commandments who claimed to be happy. I raised my hand and said, "We could acknowledge their happiness as legitimate. Mormons aren't the only happy people out there. Others are happy and cheerful even if they don't live the same way we do, and that doesn't negate the decisions we may make." The teacher paused, said, "well," paused again, "No." Someone else then explained that if they weren't keeping the commandments, their happiness couldn't be real and was only a temporary pleasure. A few others reiterated that and then the lesson quickly moved on to how wickedness never was happiness. Afterwards a member of the Bishopric thanked me for my comment and then used an economic equation (something to do with the cartel collusion principle) to prove that I was wrong. And you wonder why normally I just sit in the back silently reading on my iphone gritting my teeth.

Honestly parents, and future parents, if you want your kids to live by LDS teachings, then this principle is shooting you in the foot. What will you do when your kids meet a nonmember of another lifestyle who is happier than they've ever been? Will you tell them that that person's "I'm happy living this way" testimony is somehow less honest than your "I'm happy living this way" testimony? What will you do when after living every commandment, your son or daughter is depressed? What will you do when your kid drinks a cup of coffee or breaks some other commandment and is still happy? Or is happier? I mean honestly, lastingly, legitimately happy. Your kid, if taught as I was just taught, will then proceed to abandon all commandments and even all Mormonism.

If you want your kids to keep LDS standards, don't tell them that it is the only way to be happy, because that is a lie and they will eventually figure it out. Instead, tell them you live that way to express your love for God and to keep the promises you made to him. Tell them you live the way you live because you believe that it's right. Say how you've been blessed for doing so, but for God's sake, acknowledge that Jews, Catholics, Baptists, and even Atheists can be happy (and that Mormons, righteous Mormons, can be depressed) or your child will wake up and find that Santa isn't the one putting presents under the tree.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You Oughta Know

As I was writing yesterday's post on HBO's portrayal of sacred Mormon rites, I realized I have a whole lot more to say on the matter. I think the problem is bigger than just the controversy around that episode. As a whole, the Latter-day Saints don't seem to get it, they don't understand that they are a minority, and they don't understand why they are a disliked minority.

Robert Novak said, "Mormonism is the only minority category where bias in America has deepened" (Mitt's Mormon Mess). “Few Americans have an accurate understanding of who we are and what we believe [as Latter-day Saints]” "The resulting ignorance is causing increasing antagonism and fear of us," says Gary Lawrence in his book How Americans View Mormonism. A look at the statistics is staggering. (CBS Poll, Pew Forum, Washington Post). Only 25% of Americans, according to the CBS poll, have a favorable view of Mormons. That's 75% of Americans that don't have a favorable view of Mormons. People make similar associations with Mormons as they do with Militant Muslims.

Most of this surprises Mormons (even more so before Romney's bid for President). I've found that because Mormons talk about family values and Jesus Christ and being the fastest growing American religion (which is actually not true), they believe that they are far more mainstream than the rest of America perceives them. When Mormons become aware of other's negative perceptions of them, they seem to always blame the media. HBO's "Big Love." The News and reports of Jeff Warrens. Hollywood attacks because of Prop 8. It's all a big media conspiracy. Well guess what. I don't buy it. I think when facing negative perceptions the Mormons should be looking inward rather than outward, as easy of a scapegoat as the media is.

It is disturbing that most Mormons don't really understand why they are disliked. They don't realize how elitist and exclusive their temples and weddings are, for example, or how arrogant the redesigned is. The Church pumped a lot of work and money into the "Truth Restored" design in 2007 (it introduced the video segments still on the site and on youtube). A friend of mine who works with Church PR told me about how when the Church did studies on people's reaction to the new site, non-members thought it was extremely arrogant while Mormons thought it was amazing. They did the site over again to focus on "answers to life's questions," but I think it still comes across as arrogant.

In Elder's Quorum this past Sunday I was taught that you shouldn't teach nonmembers anything beyond the basic teachings of the gospel because they can't handle it. No meat before milk. Aside from making Latter-day Saints seem secretive, this is extremely patronizing. "We have all the answers and we will decide what to share with you based on how ready we feel you are for the truth (aka how much you can handle)."

What is really sad is that in not fully realizing their minority status, Mormons hurt themselves by mistreating other minorities. I'm sorry, but when the rights of one minority are threatened, the rights of all minorities are threatened. Minorities need to be protecting each other, not hurting each other.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Your Resistance to a Mirror

Everyone around here seems to be talking about HBO's episode of Big Love set to air Sunday which will feature a church disciplinary court and a detailed portrayal of temple rites. There is so much to say about it, frankly. Obviously most members of the Church are very upset about it. It makes me wonder what fuels their anger. Are they upset because HBO is sharing sacred information they would prefer be kept private? Are they upset because HBO is mocking (or people who watch HBO will mock) things they hold sacred? Or are they upset because HBO is embarrassing them by making Latter-day Saints seem strange?

In any event, they are upset, and rightfully so. HBO is violating a major taboo within the LDS culture. But if Mormons are going to complain about how their sacred beliefs are treated by others, then they ought to look at how they treat other people's sacred beliefs. If you don't dish out respect for others, then I don't think you have a right to complain when they don't respect you.

The first thing that pops into my head is the story that broke last year about LDS missionaries who took pictures of themselves mocking a Catholic shrine. The Church was responsible, apologized, and disciplined the missionaries involved, but there is still a bad taste in my mouth over it. I was a missionary, and I heard the other missionaries speaking disrespectfully of Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelicals, even Buddhists. Elders would study things they could say to trip up the pastors of these faiths, and would brag about making them look stupid.

Despite the apology for this specific instance, the notion that those of other faiths are stupid seems propagated by LDS authorities, not negated. Consider Elder Holland's recent talk on the Trinity in which he blasts the sacred doctrines of so many Christians and flippantly refers to them as "incomprehensible" (The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent). Not too long ago LDS leaders teaching that the Catholic Church was the whore of the Earth- that great and abominable Church. Now the great and abominable Church simply refers to all people who aren't on par with the LDS view of God. And though I want to be respectful of the Temple's sacred nature, I do think it is appropriate and relevant to point out that the rites there used to contain a very negative caricature of Protestant pastors.

Most recent and most hurtful of all to me personally, the Church has openly attacked what I hold to be sacred: My right to marry the one I love. Yes, I consider gay marriage sacred. Perhaps I feel it even more so because it is denied me, but I believe that the life long union of same sex couples is sacred. The Church not only fights to prevent that from happening, but they say nasty things about it, calling it selfish and saying that it will "erode the social identity, gender development, and moral character of children" (The Divine Institution of Marriage). They confuse homosexuality with gender confusion and misrepresent what it means to be homosexual. Members of the LDS Church have been even more disrespectful, saying that I have no morals whatsoever and that I am a threat to America and even to the world.

If Latter-day Saints are going to be "offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented" (official LDS statement) and when they feel their sacred practices are mocked or attacked, then they ought to be more careful about how they represent and talk about the sacred practices and beliefs of others. Frankly, I have a hard time sympathizing with offended Mormons right now. It's not that I want them to be disrespected or that they deserve to be disrespected, is just that I don't feel like they are even aware of how they have disrespected others. They don't seem to understand the double standard they are asking from the media when they want only positive press. They don't see hypocrisy in boycotting HBO after complaining about gay activists boycotting Mormon owned businesses in the wake of prop 8. They just don't seem to get it!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All I Needed Was a Call that Never Came

On my way home from one of my classes today I was wondering what Joseph Smith would think about gay marriage. In jest, I thought to myself that he obviously didn't have a problem with alternate forms of marriage, seeing as he had as many as 33 wives and certainly asked others to practice polygamy. As I was laughing at the irony there, I suddenly realized that, at least according to information the Church presents, I was wrong. Joseph Smith did have a problem with non-Puritan forms of marriage. So much so that he reportedly accepted polygamy only at sword point.
“When that principle [of plural marriage] was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith … he did not falter, although it was not until an angel of God, with a drawn sword, stood before him; and commanded that he should enter into the practice of that principle, or he should be utterly destroyed, or rejected, that he moved forward to reveal and establish that doctrine” (President Joseph F. Smith, “Plural Marriage for the Righteous Only-Obedience Imperative-Blessings Resulting”, Journal of Discourses, Vol.20, p.28 - p.29).
Even Brigham Young said, "Some of these my brethern know what my feelings were at the time Joseph revealed the doctrine; I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin, knowing the toil and labor that my body would have to undergo;" (Qtd. in Brigham Young: American Moses by Leonard J. Arrington).

This made me wonder about how willing a Mormon prophet would be to change the definition (or allow for the evolution) of marriage. If these Mormon prophets had to be coerced by God to accept a form of marriage they found socially, emotionally, physically, and historically repulsive, then maybe the same would have to happen for a modern Church leader to accept gay marriage. I'm serious, bear with me here.

I feel like God Himself inspired me to accept gay marriage. It was hard at first, to reconcile that inspiration with what I had been taught, but I could do it because gay marriage was desirable to me intellectually and physically. But I could understand how someone who hated the thought of gay marriage so much and was so entrenched in the historical teachings of homosexuality that he wouldn't even be able to receive that inspiration I received. Maybe he just wouldn't be receptive to it, or maybe when it came it would be dismissed or fought against or even mistaken for Satanic influence. Maybe even the response could be "I'm not ready for this, God" or "We aren't ready for this."

The only thing, then, for me to wonder is why an Angel of God hasn't appeared before Thomas S. Monson with a sword to command him to endorse gay marriage yet. I mean, now would be the perfect time! (I think this summer might have been better, but I'll settle for now). I guess we all need to start praying that the sword bearing angel will come quickly and that Thomas S. Monson will heed his message.