It started off when I contemplated the attire of many of the youth and youth leaders in the ward. Many were wearing their home-made garb intended to depict clothing worn by early LDS pioneers. They wore these clothes because this week they were going on their "trek" to simulate part of the westward migration of the saints. It got me to wondering how accurate the leaders wanted to be in their replication of the circumstances experienced by the LDS pioneers. They are dressing like the pioneers did, planning to hike long distances on foot like the pioneers did and I'm sure they'll engage in many other activities that are designed to be the same as what the pioneers experienced. I assume the intention is to illustrate, and give a sampling of, some of the hardships experienced by those who gave so much to come to Utah. But, I got to thinking, why stop there? Why not go all out and give the youth a solid taste of exactly what the pioneers experienced?
No, I'm not talking about all the death and disease and other literal physical hardship (although, I'm sure they attempt to simulate this to some extent by "pretending" that people have died at some point - but of this I am not 100% certain), I'm talking about the doctrinal hardship. Why not tell the young women that their camp leader has several of them as his plural wives? Why not tell the designated single young women that they should be preparing to be possibly selected as the bishop's next plural wife? Why not replicate the hardship these young women experienced of having to be coerced into marrying an old man, who happens to be in authority, when they may fancy a young man of their own age? It saddens me to hear about the sacrifice that was expected of so many young woman in that time period to have to give up being with a young man they may have been in love with because they were pressured by their parents or leaders to marry an older man as his polygamous wife. The story of Zina D. Huntington is especially poignant. Even though she was married to Henry Jacobs, she was asked to become Joseph Smith's plural wife. Then, after Joseph's death, Zina was told by Brigham Young that as Joseph's former plural wife, she was to become his. It is just so incredible to think about what faith drove these people to be willing to sacrifice. If you want to teach the youth about sacrifice, why not tell them the story of Zina Huntington. Here's a link to her story since you won't find it in any of the correlated materials provided by the church.
In addition, for those leaders who want to give the full sense of the experience of early members of the church, they should also castrate one of the young men who is in love with a young woman that one of the leaders desires to marry as his plural wife. This would allow the youth to get a full picture of what life was like in those early days of the church. This was a time when loyalty to the church hierarchy was valued high above personal authority. This scenario is described in several different sources, but LDS historian D. Michael Quinn gives an account of this happening on Pages 250-251 of his book entitled, "The Mormon Hierarchy, Extensions of Power". Again, this is an event that the details of which cannot be found anywhere in correlated LDS manuals covering early LDS church history. If people want to give as "full" an experience as possible of representing what things were like for LDS pioneers, I think leaving these kinds of things out of the experience really does a disservice to the youth wanting to know what life was "really like" back then.
Anyway, realizing that telling one of the young women, dressed like a pioneer sitting on a pew near me, to remember that - while 'trekking' - she should be mentally preparing to become one of the bearded leaders' plural wife would probably have not gone over very well, I turned my attention to the first speaker.
This talk was a doozy for me. The speaker started out saying that she was thinking about the meaning of the words faith and testimony. She said that a testimony was a statement of belief - as in the witness of a person with first hand knowledge who offers testimony at a trial in a court of law. I didn't have any problem with that, but I did have a problem with the twisting of the definition into the traditional LDS meaning as being a statement of knowledge of absolute truth. Can anyone know absolute truth, really? We can have an idea of what is true in our life, but as far as being able to say what is true for everyone...how can anyone know that in an absolute manner? She went on to say that she struggled with her testimony because she went to a liberal college where she heard much about liberal philosophy which served to discount, or eliminate the need for, religion. Especially her LDS religion. She said it was tempting to buy into their rhetoric but that she turned to her faith in order to gain her own testimony. I wondered what kinds of things she disagreed with about what her professors were saying, but she did not elaborate.
Then she went on mention how she was aware of many lost young people who had left their beliefs. Even though she did not specifically say they were unhappy because of their "lack of faith", the message was pretty clear that if they had maintained their faith in the church they would be much happier.
One thing I realized at this point was that people in the church tend to do a lot of generalizing about the state that others (outside the church) find themselves in and it is usually assumed that they are just so unhappy without the teachings of the church in their life. They do this without any specific examples or evidence and everyone just accepts the reference without questioning. One time, I was having a Facebook conversation with my former bishop about this idea. I said I was struggling with the continued inference that those outside the church are just not as happy as those inside the church. Especially when faced with statements made by those who have left the church that they are actually happier outside the church than they ever were in it. The only way for faithful LDS to reconcile this discrepancy is to come to one conclusion; they are either lying or they are mistaken. It is impossible for tbm's to actually accept that there may be people outside the church who are happier without it. This kind of dissonance is just amazing to me.
In order for someone to maintain continuity of belief in the LDS paradigm, they must accuse everyone outside the church - who claims to have found happiness - that they are mistaken because they just don't know what true happiness is yet or they are simply lying! How brash and presumptuous can it get? Let's listen further to what the speaker had to say.
She then went on to say that we can lose our testimony with the passage of time and lack of belief. She used the example of Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon having seen angels on multiple occasions and yet continued denial of what they had seen. Frankly, this was so irritating to me. I really despise the box that non-believers must be placed in to continue justification of this belief that one person's version of wickedness never was happiness. Because this account is contained in the Book of Mormon it is presumed to be true. However, once I actually questioned the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, I was able to reject such blindly accusatory ideas. When I am able to say that maybe the story of Laman and Lemuel is just made up, I can then better acknowledge my experience that says if someone really sees an angel sent from the presence of God that they will have a hard time ever questioning the existence of God ever again. Unless, of course, the experience occurs in a semi-lucid or dream state which doesn't represent cold hard reality, (but, I guess to be fair, the Book of Mormon is not clear on this point) then maybe it would be easier to explain their behavior post-vision.
I just have such a hard time with this dichotomy that is continually setup and reinforced throughout the Book of Mormon. This idea that people are either all good (righteous) or all bad (wicked) is kind of a juvenile concept. The real world finds us all falling somewhere in between. I can't go around in the world today claiming that large groups of the population need to repent of their wicked ways or they are going to soon perish. Even the LDS general authorities don't engage in such polarizing rhetoric. They speak of absolutes in general terms without specifically referring to any specific group of people anywhere. The members are left feeling like they have had their polarizing view of the world vindicated while the brethren haven't specifically condemned any particular group of society. It is a total win-win until a member (like myself) starts to wonder where all this unhappiness is in the world that the scriptures would seem to testify of.
Once I came to understand that there is such a thing as polarizing rhetoric, I began to see how that might actually be a big part of the problem. It wasn't that the world was all good and all bad, it was the framing of my perception of the world in that way that was causing the problem for me. Once I let go of the devotion to the rhetoric, I was able to see the world in a whole new light and come to appreciate all the diversity in the beautiful world we find in people all around us. Understanding that I may not actually have all the truth and all the answers allowed me to appreciate the contributions of others and actually recognize that they may have merit.
I guess this understanding that I have gained, and perceived to be challenged, is what I had such a hard time with.
I had many more issues with this talk, but I think what really got to me the most is what I have outlined above. End rant.
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