Thursday, June 9, 2011

Getting theological up in the hiz-ouse

Everyone knows that there is a difference between what people believe and doctrine, right?

The Koran forbids suicide, but suicide-bombers find ways to justify their actions in religious fervor.  The New Testament forbids violence toward others, but that doesn't stop some Christians from proposing ways to make killing abortion clinic employees a form of "justified homicide."  (And you know what they say about apples and barrels.  They smell nice in the fall.)

What a religion says and what people do with that are often two different things, and for the most part, I think that's just a fact of life everyone understands.

Except when it comes to littler things.

Move away from the irony that most religions preach non-violence, and yet religious people can lay the smackdown with the best of them, and take a look at some of the smaller quirks in various religious traditions.

Here's one from mine -- I was told as a kid by a Sunday School teacher that when I was a little pre-mortal spirit up in heaven, I looked down at earth and said, "Yup, those two.  I want to be their kid."

This was done, no doubt, to cause me to feel serious guilt when I took my parents for granted or ever got around to rebelling.  And that is what Sunday School teachers do -- they make kids feel guilty.  It's basically the half the job description: "Sing songs.  Guilt kids."

But everyone who does even a tiny bit of research into the Mormon religion knows that that's not true -- it's just an urban legend created by legions of well-meaning-but-somewhat-creepy Sunday School and seminary teachers after a few too many viewings of Saturday's Warrior.* 

Alright, so now we have our dissonance identified: the Mormon church does not teach that we pick our earthly experiences up in heaven v. a decent chunk of Mormons probably believe that this is at least partly true.

Here's the part that boggles my mind.

Someone in the camp who knows it's not true will blow a gasket when confronted with the fact that yes, some Mormons believe this.  "The church doesn't actually teach that!  If you did any research, you would know!"

Look, I know the church doesn't teach it.  That isn't the point.  The point is, a lot of people believe it, and that influences the way those people interact with the world.

It's one thing to point out a misunderstanding or misapplication of facts, but another to deny the fact that there are plenty of people misunderstanding or misapplying all over the place, just because YOU don't misunderstand or misapply.

And really, it shouldn't matter that people have additional, extracurricular, or even contradictory beliefs when compared with their professed religion.  You want to be a Jewish Christian?  An existential Catholic?  An atheist who believes in heaven?  A vegan Episcopalian?  A pro-choice Baptist?

Go forth and prosper, my homies, as long as what you choose doesn't scrape the skin off my nose or someone else's.  That's why we're all here on this planet -- to find a way of living that is meaningful and makes sense to us.

Or that's what I believe, anyway.

* Totally random, but worth sharing.  When I was a kid, I would mentally re-write things to make them less lame, and then forget I'd done it.  When I was in college and someone mentioned the episode of Saved By The Bell where Jessie gets addicted to caffeine pills, I was SHOCKED, because I was sure she had been addicted to cocaine (which is a real addiction, and therefore not ludicrous).  I held firm to this belief until we went back to the dorms and YouTubed the "I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I'm so scared" clip and I was forced to admit that, indeed, Jessie Spano's greatest  moment of teenage darkness came in the form of pep pills.

Same thing happened with Saturday's Warrior, a horrifyingly bad Mormon morality play, complete with big hair and bad songs.  (For the record, my parents never rented Saturday's Warrior for me, but I did watch it a friend's house in second grade.  And this is what really happens when parents don't double-check what their kids are doing at their friends' houses--kids watch bad, non-church produced musicals with a lot of fog effects.)

For all my fellow 80s-born Mormon friends -- remember when the family's oldest son Jimmy joins a "gang"?  And that gang is identifiable mostly by their even baggier neon clothes, their profligate daytime napping, their littering, and their dark eye makeup? 

My childlike brain told me that this was a real gang, complete with violence and drug use and gun trafficking and thinly veiled misogyny and racism.  Because otherwise, why would Jimmy's family be so very upset that he had fallen in with these reprobates?   

But when I re-watched Saturday's Warrior as an adult, for nostalgia's sake, I realized that, no, actually, the "gang" was mostly just advocating for zero population growth.



  1. This is great. Thanks.

    I spit [literally, from laughing] when I read "It's basically half the job description - Sing songs. Guilt kids." This may be my new motto for religion in general. Just brilliant.

  2. I have a not-so-secret soft spot for Saturday's Warrior. When I listened to it again in college, I was surprised to find I was more like the "gang" than Jimmy.

  3. Zero population growth! What will those gangsters come up with next?

    I never saw Saturday's Warrior, and now I'm a little conflicted. On the one hand, there's a lot of weirdness that I didn't have to figure out when I was a kid. But on the other hand, I am apparently missing out when it comes to Mormon blogland, because it seems to come up surprisingly often.

    I am also of the belief that people should figure out for themselves what makes their life happy and meaningful as long as it doesn't get in the way of others. I have found, however, that this doesn't actually fly with a lot of people. Which I think, perhaps, is too bad.

  4. Sunday School teachers say a lot of whacky things. Like the time one of mine said that "Multiply & replenish the earth" meant everyone was required to have at least 3 children. Because you needed to have two children to REPLENISH the earth since the parents would eventually die, and one more to fulfill the MULTIPLY part.

    Coincidentally, I also think that teacher was part of the Saturday's Warrior cast.

  5. I identify the "sing songs, guilt kids" mentality more with seminary teachers, from my experience. This is probably because they seemed to live their jobs, and the sunday school teachers kind of don't care about theirs. As I am in the middle a SS stint right now, I can tell you that I don't care enough to tell those kids any more crazy things than I have to read to them out of the book they give me. My seminary teachers gave me such gems as:

    French kissing is always always always a sin. Even if you're married. Apparently there is something deeply satanic about tongues (perhaps because they are generally recreational, not reproductive?)

    If you call any adult ever by their first name you are going to hell, because some apostle in 1913 says so. The YW leaders who tell you it's cool to call them by their first names are grossly failing at their callings.

    If you marry someone who has ever ever looked at porn your marriage is doomed forever.

    "Sing songs, guilt kids, and make sure they know that they are going to hell."

  6. Skippy - ha, thanks :)

    Di - I'm pretty sure everyone normal identifies with the "gang." Which is why they probably should have just made it a gang. If only so I could we could hear gangsters yell, "Let's rob this fetching grocery store!" in an effort to remain rated-G.

    Alex - you need to see it, man. Just prepare yourself with lots of treats beforehand, because it is AW-ful.

    Nikol - sometimes I think Sunday School teachers just say stuff to say it, never thinking that the kids will remember it. One told me once that mammals go to the Celestial Kingdom, but reptiles, amphibians and fish go to the telestial.

    Becca - very valid point. I am far more scarred from seminary teachers than any other church person. Particularly my 9th grade one who made all the girls wear crowns while he told us that, hey, guess what! We aren't really responsible for our sins, our future husbands are. Lucky us.

  7. Wow. The crown thing sounds disturbing.

    After reading Becca's comment I was reminded of the YW leader who told us that we were supposed to freshen up (i.e. make sure we're not in sweats, reapply lipstick) and make sure the kids are clean and presentable when our husbands come home from work. Even if you're sick. Or tired. Or anything.

    No excuses for husband beauty, evidently.

  8. Saturday's Warrior needs to disappear. As do false-doctrine preaching Sunday School teachers. I had one that used to talk about how he KNEW the second coming was going to happen in 2025.

    And I like your version of Jessie's addiction MUCH better.

  9. Karen - 2025, huh? It didn't happen to May 21, 2025, did it? He better go tell that other end-of-days predictor he was just off by 14 years. Oh, seminary teachers.

  10. A mother of some girls I taught in YW cornered me one day and chewed me out for telling her daughters that there's no such thing as soul mates per the Saturday's Warriors tradition. Apparently, I traumatized her daughters by saying you have your agency and get to choose who to marry. I showed her the official quote I used ("'soul mates' are fiction and an illusion" via Kimball), but she said that was only his opinion.

    Here's to bucking false doctrine Mormon tradition!