Monday, August 22, 2011

The Mormon Box

A while back, I published a post about a lunch meeting I had with a former priesthood leader.  I called it “The Mormon Wall” because I had been frustrated with this person’s inability – though I had considered him a friend and reasonably open-minded – to even listen to my feelings, let alone empathize with them.  I published it both on my blog as well as on Main Street Plaza, where I occasionally post.

The other day, someone left on comment to the post on Main Street Plaza.  I was going to respond via a comment, but decided instead to write a post about this person’s “musings” and, while I’m at it, make some general observations about Mormon culture.  So, below is his comment in italics, with my observations following.  Please keep in mind that the subject matter of my post was my friend’s inability to “let down the Mormon wall” of moral judgment long enough to try to listen to my feelings and maybe even try to understand them.

“Invictus, let me propose a hypothetical. It's completely crazy. But bear with me.

“Suppose that our Father in Heaven knows more than we do. I know, it's crazy, but please keep an open mind ...”

What is it that motivates some Mormons to ridicule others with patronizing sarcasm, then ask those individuals to “keep an open mind”?

“ … Suppose that he has been through Hell and back and made it to eternal glory. Suppose he had sacrificed all and has experienced all of the temptations, all of the pains and agonies that we all suffer here on Earth.

“Suppose that from his vantage point he knows what will make us happy. I know, it's completely insane to imagine that, but just stay with me.”

Hmmm.  Okay, there’s the [rather offensively patronizing] sarcasm again.  Plus the introduction of another common characteristic of some Mormons:  their penchant for assuming that anyone from an LDS background who holds a different view from them on doctrinal (or social or political, or, etc., etc.) issues obviously doesn’t understand the Gospel, hasn’t studied it, hasn’t thought deeply about it …. And thus the need to ‘splain it to them (as Ricky Ricardo would say).

“A comparison might be that you are a father and you are up on a hill-side watching your kids play. Maybe they're playing in tall grass. Maybe they don't realize it, but they can't see that there is a pit of snakes to the left or a precipitous drop-off to the right. Suppose they have grown to trust you and you tell them they need to go straight (no pun intended, well maybe it was intended) to avoid the pain of the perils to the left and the right.

“Suppose the kid doesn't understand why, but trusts the father and goes straight. He'll be better off. He won't get bit. He won't fall off the cliff. He may not understand why he is better off, but his father does.”

Okay.  Is this a scene from an old seminary film?  The assumption seems to be that I am so myopic and juvenile in my thought processes that I need to have it ‘splained to me in simple terms that would perhaps be appropriate for, let’s see, my six-year-old son.  Given the context of the original post (homosexuality), one is left to assume that the author of the comment is comparing homosexuality to either getting bitten by a poisonous snake or falling off the edge of a cliff.

“What's my point? Here's my point? What if the Lord's living Prophet here on the Earth really is the mouthpiece for the Lord? What if you really will be happier here on Earth and in the eternities if you trust in your Father in Heaven?”

I assume he’s referring to President Monson.  But what’s his point?  The implication seems to be that President Monson has condemned homosexuality.  But so far as I am aware, President Monson hasn’t said one word about homosexuality since becoming president of the church.  And as far as “trusting” in my “Father in Heaven,” the writer of this comment again seems to be implying, though he doesn’t so state, that God has condemned homosexuality.

At this point, the author of the comment really – as they say back where I’m from – goes to town:

“To further my point, you don't have to believe this, but some people do. If they DO believe this, isn't it their responsibility to try to help you see the same thing they see? You are perfectly welcome to disagree with them and not follow their advice. But if you do, you are 100% responsible for your own happiness and you need to stop blaming your unhappiness on people who offer advice and help that you choose not to take.”

First of all, I’m glad that he acknowledges that I “don’t have to believe” what he obviously believes about homosexuality and which he implies is what God believes and has communicated to his “prophet” here on earth.  [Note that this is another common behavior found among many  Mormons, i.e., assuming that both God and – more importantly, President Monson – believe what they individually believe, e.g., on immigration.  (Oops.  That one’s a bit tricky, isn’t it?)]

Secondly, he makes another very Mormon assumption:  it is the obligation of such people to share their interpretations of eternal truths with others, in order to help them see the errors of their ways.  Now some people might call that … let’s see … offensive.  But moving on, for what purpose would they do this?  Out of love? Out of genuine concern? Or out of a sense of self-righteousness geared toward earning celestial brownie points?  Just asking ...

Next comes the self-righteous blame game.  If I am stupid enough not to follow the “advice” of someone who knows what’s better for me more than I do, then I am “100% responsible for my own happiness.”  That’s funny – I already thought I am responsible for my own happiness; but apparently, I need to be reminded of this fact.

Now we come to the most interesting part of this comment.  The author states that I “need to stop blaming [my] unhappiness on people who offer advice and help that [I] choose not to take.”  He then continued:

“You want them to be "open-minded", but you aren't the least bit open-minded about them. You don't want them to believe and practice their religion as they believe the spirit has directed them.

“I don't feel sorry for you. You need to cancel the pitty party and start taking responsibility for your own happiness and well-being. As much as others try to affect your wellbeing, it is ultimately 100% your responsibility.”

What’s interesting is that there is nothing in my original post about being unhappy.  Frustrated, yes.  Frustrated, as I wrote in that post, that “I couldn’t get past the Mormon wall – the wall that is erected to shut out feelings and experiences (whether of others or one’s own) that do not comport with “revealed truth” and/or the “counsel of the brethren.””

And thus I come to the title of this post and why it was selected.  As I discussed this comment with a friend of mine, he pointed out that this is a tactic of many members of the Church, particularly when it comes to issues like homosexuality.  They take what you say and twist it out of all recognition, putting it into a box that comports with their view of the world.  If what you say doesn’t fit in the box, then they have no problem in simply throwing it out or changing it to fit their view of the world.

The commenter’s entire comment is a case in point.  He took what was a sincere, thoughtful (if I do say so) reflection on a disappointing conversation and repackaged it into a “pitty party” by a presumably miserable gay Mormon.  Furthermore, he turned my desire that Brother John (in my original post) be more empathetic or at least make an attempt at understanding feelings (not doctrine), into an attack on me, claiming that I was attempting to prevent Brother John from believing and practicing his religion as he believes the spirit has directed him.* 

Excuse me?  I didn’t realize that a request for understanding equated an attempt to tell Brother John what to believe.  There are none so blind who will not even attempt to see.

* I have to hand it to the commenter, though:  this last line of argument has very authoritative precedent.  It is precisely this line of reasoning that Elder Oaks and others of the brethren have recently used (cloaked as “religious freedom”) as a sword to advance their beliefs in the public square, only to then turn around and use it as a shield when others criticize them for attempting to turn their beliefs into public policy.


  1. What I noticed in the comment was its continuing blame-the-victim-ness.

    See, the Mormon Church has the solutions. And if they didn't work for you, or made you miserable instead of happy, it's not their fault. It's yours!

    But yes, they do that box thing too. It's like they're incapable of comprehending anything that doesn't fit into their system. I explained some "not very useful truths" about the LDS church in some articles that I wrote, and was attacked for being "uncivil", even though I was just stating facts. Apparently, all criticisms of LDS theology or practice are motivated by "the spirit of contention."

  2. Yesterday in church, the Sunday School teacher said that he has an adult daughter who doesn’t go to church, and every time he sees or talks to her, he asks her if she is going to church and taking her son to Primary. He said that she often gets defensive about this, but he has explained to her that he feels that as a parent, it is his responsibility to always remind her about what she should be doing.

    This argument really put me off. I wanted to ask, “Isn’t the relationship with your daughter more important than continually nagging her about something she has no interest in?” I don’t see how that wedge is helpful; nor do I think it will help achieve the desired results. Does this encourage your daughter to share the events of her life with you? Does this bring her closer to you? Is she more open with you? I would think that the honest answer is no. Because anything she would share with you would be used as an opportunity to tell her she should come back to church.

    It is very similar to the line of thinking by the commenter to your blog. In effect they are both saying, “You really haven’t thought about this very deeply; therefore, your conclusions or actions are wrong.” They address this with the thought that their reasoning is righteously-based so they won’t even attempt to understand another view point, for in so doing, they would be questioning the foundation of their faith.

    I think this is a limiting outlook on life, and it limits the deep authentic interactions with other people. This perspective ultimately says “I don’t respect the choices you have made in your life, and I won’t attempt to try to understand them either.”

    How sad.

  3. Feathertail - I agree with you: the commenter was really talking about the "blame the victim" thing, and I really didn't do a very good job of articulating the box thing; but I thought the title was really catchy, so I went with it. ;)

    Utahhiker801 - Yes, you are spot on, and I hope to address this very subject in an upcoming blog post. Does his daughter only have validity in his eyes if she is active? Does his grandson only have value if he is going to Primary? Yes: how sad.

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  5. I love your analysis of the comment and commenter IP....what a fine example of the whole enchilada!

  6. This post made my blood boil. Not you, but your commenter. Deep breaths, deep breaths. Thanks for sharing. I'm new to the blog world and like your posts.

  7. Well written post about your personal feelings and the condemnation of the Prophet and the Lord by one in complete authority .... well, maybe not real authority, but the official ... well, maybe not official, but the unofficial mouthpiece for the church... well, maybe not really a mouthpiece for the church, but just a person who feels that they have all truth about everything and you don't.

    Anywho ... well said.