Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Things I've Said About Mormon Topics Recently

Used with permission from xkcd.com

This is just smorgasbord of comments that I've made in a few other forums (fora?) recently.

My Relationship to the Church
In response to an inquiry about my situations, thoughts and feelings about the church:

For me personally, the most difficult thing about the LDS church is that I feel like it wants to have a parent-child relationship with me. (The institution is the parent and I am the child.) In essence, it's an infantilizing force. Now that I'm a 30-something, I'm ready to graduate beyond "gospel principles" and wrestle with the more problematic aspects of the church as a mature adult. As an academic, I place a high value on 1) independent thought, 2) developing empathy for people who are different from you or who may disagree with you, and 3) the ability to recognize that no issue is purely black and white, that nearly every issue is more complex than you initially thought it was before you began to examine it in more depth. I believe that thoughtful, well-researched dialogue (argumentation) is usually the best means to this end. It's a messy, uncontrollable process, but, at the end of the day, it is one which produces better people and institutions once they have gone through that crucible. Unfortunately, the correlated, authoritarian structure of the church is not conducive to producing an environment in which thoughtful dialogue can occur (or even a type of person who is capable of that kind of mindset). As such, Mormons like me and my husband are going elsewhere for our spiritual and intellectual stimulation.

On McNaughton's Art
In discussion with a friend on Facebook about Jon McNaughton's claim he is being censored by BYU:

Oftentimes I find that Mormon culture is an extension or exaggeration of American's conservative culture at large. I am intrigued by the conservative impulse to read an "attack on conservative values" into what seems like a fairly a benign administrative decision. (It reminds me of the attack on Christmas that you hear about on Fox News every December.)

I think that framing the issue as an "attack" is meant to function as proof that one's particular religious and political beliefs are ordained by God. The logic is that if something is from God, then Satan must obviously want to destroy it. Therefore, the existence of strong opposition to your cherished beliefs is further proof that your beliefs are of divine origin.

Unfortunately, what these kind of "attack" paradigms really do is just create a red herring to distract us from any kind of meaningful, critical dialogue about the real issues at hand (e.g. does selling McNaughton's art mean that BYU endorses his political values and does it therefore constitute a breach of the church's politically neutral position, should BYU try to be considerate of a diverse range of political beliefs on its campus, analysis of the aesthetic value of McNaughton's artwork, etc.)

For me personally, I remember going to the basement of the BYU Bookstore to buy my husband some lab goggles and seeing McNaughton's painting so prominently displayed. I distinctly remember feeling a profound sense of alienation when I looked at it, a deep sense of how much I didn't belong in a culture that celebrated a painting like that. I never complained to anyone about it, but maybe someone else who had a similar experience did say something.

Perspectives on Inactive Single Women
This next one was in a comment on a blog entry I wrote nearly three years ago about why 20-something single women go inactive. It's in response to a recent comment from a reader who said she left the church because she was tired of the strict family culture of her parents, which was fueled largely by their Mormon beliefs:

A whole lot has changed in terms of my relationship to the church since I first wrote this blog entry three years ago. I'm going through a phase of transitional Mormonism where I am painfully aware of the church's "warts" that were completely invisible to me up until now. Some of those warts have been too big to ignore and have caused me to wrestle quite a bit over what I want my relationship with the church to be in the future.

As part of this transition, I've been hanging out with a lot of liberal Mormons, New Order Mormons, Liahona Mormons, inactive Mormons, ex-Mormons, etc. And I've discovered that the Mormon community is far more diverse than I could have EVER imagined. I used to think of ex-Mormons as angry, bitter folks who just want to rebel or sin, who are so prideful that they are easily offended by something a church member or leader did. I used to define the world in terms of Mormon, ex-Mormon, and non-Mormon. I used to think that a Mormon was someone who subscribed to a particular orthodoxy and orthopraxy (strictness in belief and practice).

I could not have been more wrong. Mormons, ex-Mormons---and all the many other shades of gray in between---are an incredibly diverse group of people. And they all have genuine reasons for believing and acting the way they do. Every single one of them. They're not being prideful. They're not ignorant. They're not sinful. Far from it. In reality, they're all decent human beings who are taking the course of action that makes sense to them in light of their life experiences and all the information that is available to them.

The experiences you shared in your comment make a lot of sense to me in terms of explaining why 20-somethings are leaving the church (and despite my previous comments, I think that the 80% statistic might not be that far off from the truth).

A few semesters ago, I received an email from the parent of one of my college students that was completely inappropriate. The parent told me he was convinced his 20-something daughter had been lying to him about attending my class. He demanded that I tell him whether or not his daughter was attending my class regularly and wanted to know what her current grade was. I emailed him and said that it would be a breach of the student's privacy to share that information with him, but I would be willing to meet with both him and his daughter if she gave her consent. (Incidentally, the student had not been attending my class for some time---and I never heard from either him or the student again.)

The problem with this kind of parenting is the locus of both morality and control is in the parent. In a my-way-or-the-highway model of parenting (a strict, authoritarian, father-knows-best model of parenting), then, as Jane Nelson says, "it becomes the adult's responsibility to be constantly in charge of children's behavior." She writes: "The most popular form of excessive control used by parents and teachers is a system of rewards and punishment. With this system, adults must catch children being good so that they can give rewards and catch them being bad so they can dole out punishment. Who is being responsible? Obviously it is the adult; so what happens when the adult is not around? Children do not learn to be responsible for their own behavior."

It makes sense that a lot of Mormon parents would try to be controlling parents because that is essentially the relationship the church currently has with its members: a parent-child relationship in which the church is the father-figure who tells us what to do and provides for our needs in return for our obedience (social needs being chief among them). The problem is that the church becomes the locus for control and morality---in other words it fosters a dependent relationship in which its members are not free to think for themselves, to act for themselves, and to define morality for themselves through their own experience and insights. This, to me, is one of the most disturbing aspects of the contemporary correlated church. And I don't begrudge anyone who chooses to leave that kind of an institution or that kind of a family.

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