Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let men's hearts fail

I recently watched a Mormon messages video sent to me (that can be found here). The video is a story shared by Russell M. Nelson who is a member of the quorum of 12 apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In the story, Nelson tells of a hair raising experience he had while flying on a small plane. He said the engine, that he could see outside his window, burst into flames, exploded and then spewed burning oil all over the side of the plane. He said that he was curious at a woman who was crying and screaming hysterically as the plane started to dive due to the loss of the engine. He said he was calm and felt "ready to meet his maker" as he thought the plane might be spiraling to his certain death. The implication is then made, through the comments he makes next, that those who fear or are suffering are somehow inferior to those who have faith or belief in an afterlife.

I think there must be something wrong with me because, while many will say they find the message and the video inspiring and uplifting, I find it condescending and demeaning, especially to the poor woman who wasn't ready to die. He is taking a perfectly normal reaction to facing potential death in a plane crash (screaming and crying hysterically) and turning it into something that is to be avoided if you believe strongly enough in God and an afterlife. Who's to say that the woman didn't believe in God or that she wasn't crying because she was sinful or felt inadequate...SHE WAS CRYING BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T WANT TO DIE! THAT'S IT. Is he saying that those who are afraid of something (like dying) lack faith and if they just believed more they would all be calm like he was? I'm sorry, but I have seen many faithful people get scared and cry when their life was in danger. No matter what your level of faith, everyone will react differently - sometimes with calmness, sometimes with hysteria - when faced with a life threatening situation. Regardless of who you are or what you believe, everybody get's scared once in a while.

It is normal to be scared and our particular reaction in that moment may be more due to our personality or current disposition than anything to do with spiritual or religious beliefs. It is normal to be afraid and we shouldn't put down people for engaging in a perfectly reasonable and normal response to the loss of their life. And we certainly shouldn't put our response to that situation on a pedestal because we happen to not be afraid in that moment. If we did not have fear, or get scared, we would all die off because of what we would now call stupidity.

Don't get me wrong, fear is not something that is desirable. I don't go around looking for things to be afraid of. Rather, fear is a normal thing. It is not something to be demonized in order to get you to believe the way I do about the existence of a higher power or what might happen after we all die. I see this as a despicable tool being used by Nelson to manipulate people and get them to convert to his point of view. It just seems like this man is taking something that is normal and exploiting it to make himself appear knowledgeable and as having something that you need. How is this different than a snake oil salesman who tells you that you are suffering from this or that and only he has the cure? Frankly, I don't see much difference.

After re-watching the video, I am actually impressed that Mr. Nelson does not make any definite statements as to what you need, rather he says "a faith" instead of "the faith" when referring to what is needed to overcome fear or sadness. Baby steps towards increased tolerance and acceptance of other faith traditions, I guess. I honestly think Nelson has the benefit of a skilled PR and legal department guiding and editing his words in this video so those that are paying attention can't gather too much literal ammunition to cry intolerance on the church. While he is very careful, the presumptions are glaring.

I would also submit that Mr. Nelson's interpretation of the scripture he quotes in the video is being misinterpreted. The verses he quotes are a snippet of a lengthy response from Jesus to his apostles asking when he would come again and what signs would follow so that they might know and be ready (see Luke 21:7). The verses Nelson quotes are as follows (from Luke 21);

 25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

 26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

 27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

When I read these verses it sounds to me like the faithful will be the one's aware of the signs that indicate the 2nd coming of Jesus is near. Especially since the audience in these verses is the apostles of Jesus. Those that believe are the one's whose hearts will fail them. This means the faithful will fear because it is perceived that the things they are "looking after" (meaning the signs that they believe have been foretold - even though there is really nothing explicit or detailed about what these events might be exactly, except for those things that have plagued us for centuries like war, famine, natural disasters, etc.) are coming and the "powers of heaven" shall be shaken. In other words, the powers of heaven can only mean those that are the one's supposedly possessing said powers. Those that supposedly have these powers (God given power, authority or priesthood) will be shaken.

To understand this verse further, and add a different perspective, let's try to understand what would happen if astronomers see something out of the ordinary concerning the sun, moon or stars. It will most certainly not cause them to remember that Jesus' second coming is near. Rather, if these things seem to spell the end of our lives on this planet, scientists will attempt to understand what is happening and warn us if there is an impending disaster due to those things. Certainly the world at large would be scared if that sort of thing were announced, or experienced, but it would not be according to signs having been foretold in the scriptures. Scripture is intentionally vague when it comes to specific signs or atrocities so that they are all inclusive. These vague things are then used as mechanisms to convince, and ultimately control, people to believe in what the current professors of those teachings are saying.

Nelson then goes on to tell us that the reason hearts will fail (or people will experience fear or sadness) is because we forget our identity and our purpose. Apparently showing people in silence as they argue or look generally sad is supposed to re-enforce this idea. I feel bad about this representation because, while it may speak to those who struggle in different ways, it portrays these people as lacking in some way. People who experience normal things that may cause stress in their lives are shown as imperfect and needing the help that Nelson can apparently provide.

What makes me even more sad is that many times the church, and the teachings that Nelson espouses, are actually the CAUSE of those feelings of inadequacy or stress, fear or sadness. It is very much a self perpetuating and self sustaining mechanism. You feel fear or sadness because you lack what the LDS church can supposedly provide for you and if you continue to feel those feelings, you are just not doing enough and need to do more. Read more, pray more, do more service and eventually those feelings will subside. When in reality, the more you engage in those kinds of behaviors, the more you realize you can't possibly do it all AND keep up with everything else in your life. Something's gotta give and, invariably, the things that give first are those things the church is telling you that you are not doing enough of. If only you did better you will eventually find the peace Nelson promises. Only trouble is, it never really shows up because the messages repeated every week at church are geared to making you feel inadequate.

He says that the following things brought sadness or "trouble" in his life;
- Death of his wife
- Death of his daughter

He's seen the troubles brought to people through;
- Divorce
- Children or grandchildren going astray
- Disability, illness, injuries
While pictured is a women crying over a baby in an incubator at an ICU, a man packing up and leaving after losing his job and a woman who is sad after an argument with her husband.

Nelson is grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that allows him that kind of strength to be helped during these tumultuous times. I'm sorry, but I would rather prefer to see our society as being in a BETTER state than it was a century or two ago. While there may have been several major natural disasters (shown in Nelson's video) to happen in recent years, studies have shown that these events are actually decreasing (according to a Freakonomics Radio podcast: "The folly of prediction" 9/14/2011). Violent crime is down, homicide is down, nearly every statistic that could be utilized to potentially measure the state of bad things happening (maybe with the exception of joblessness and homelessness which are pretty cyclical) is down. We are more tolerant and less violent towards each other. I'm not sure to what Nelson is referring when he labels these as tumultuous times, unless he is alluding to the things listed above that are inevitable (i.e. death, disability, illness, premature births, unemployment, arguments and injuries) to happen in all of our lives. If that is the case, the message that we need to lift ourselves up and move on is appreciated. However, the presumption that it is only the gospel of Jesus Christ that will enable people to do that is highly insulting, intolerant and narrow-minded.

While the music and scenes are all precisely designed to evoke emotion using the church owned, Bonneville communications HeartSell® technique, it is really difficult to not shed a tear over watching this video. But something just doesn't feel right. Such blatant manipulation of emotion ought to be outlawed when used to make you believe that you are screwed up and that what the church has to offer you is what represents the cure.

Of course, it is even more humorous that he is holding a Book of Mormon in his lap at the end of the video. As if he was not afraid because of the Book of Mormon. It's like he is saying, "If you will just read the Book of Mormon you will not be afraid like the poor woman that cried hysterically when facing the prospect of her imminent and untimely demise." What a crock! Tell me if you disagree, I can take it.


  1. Thank you for writing this up. My friends keep sharing this on Facebook and every time I watch it I have the same thought: what's wrong with being hysterical when you're in a plane that's crashing?!!

    Wouldn't you love to hear the woman's side of this? I can just picture her as a speaker at some convention for rational thinkers:

    "So here I am screaming, and I look across the aisle and see this religious nutcase, calmly reading a book like his life means nothing to him ... and I just was so sorry for him."

  2. Absolutely! Thanks for the comment!

  3. It's time to move on with your life, big fella. In reading your posts you seem to be too concerned in justifying your decision to leave your religion than to actually go out an enjoy your new found freedom. Get over it already!!

  4. @ Anonymous, I wish I knew where you were coming from so I could adequately frame a response to your comment. On the one hand I can see that you might be a disaffected member of a religion yourself and you are trying to encourage me to get to what you see as a better place. However, I can also see that you might be coming from a position of faith trying to get me to move on from being critical of your beliefs. I'm not sure if you realize what being on the path I am on involves.

    While there are many times I would just love to abandon any criticism of the church and go out and live a life of happiness pursuing my freedom to enjoy whatever I want, I am also in a position where I am continually receiving reminders of what I am not and what I should be (according to the opinions of people I very much love and respect in my life). While things are not nearly as difficult as they have been in the past, those reminders still come frequently.

    So, while I really want to just heed your advice and ignore all of those reminders, I feel the need to continue to attempt to provide a perspective from the other side of the fence, so to speak, to attempt to balance the faithful things that are brought to my attention (Especially those that are shared with me under the pretense of getting me to see the "error" of my ways and come back to church.)

    So, while I am not sure what place you are offering the advice from, I can certainly respect the message and try harder to follow that advice. However, I hope you'll understand why I continue to attempt to provide my perspective on those things I encounter that are intended to be "faith promoting". Regardless, I appreciate that you took the time to share your thoughts with me.

  5. I read an ex-mormon's experience as a TBM of hoping that the planes he was on would crash so the oppressive stress he felt from his Church-led life. I felt similar feelings before and after my mission: just get this test over! I've been enduring a lot and am not looking forward to enduring another 60 years.

    I wonder if some sort of feeling exists for apostles. GBH always said how lonely it was to be the prophet.


  6. There is something to be said for having a strong belief in an afterlife sometimes being a crutch (or possible reason to despise this life) because people look forward to escaping the "trials" of this life to enter into the "rest, peace and happiness" that their eternal afterlife will bring. This idea stimulates some very interesting thoughts. Thanks!

  7. Maybe even left unspoken by Russell M. Nelson, was a feeling of gratitude that, finally, this calling can end and I can be on to bigger and better things in the eternities ;)

  8. This an old thread but I just watched the video and was googling it b/c I wanted to learn more about the crash--plane crashes interest me. I am somewhat afraid of flying (I know it is irrational) but still fly b/c I need to. I get nervous when there is any turbulence, etc. But I did notice that when I flew home from my mission in s. america, I had no fear at all. There were multiple connections and some turbulence I think. That is the only time I remember not being nervous on a plane ever. I can't say why I wasn't scared for sure, but I think I felt at peace with who I was at the time...that if my time to go was then so be it, it was God's will. Not trying to judge or anything, just my personal experience. Maybe I was naive, but I wish I could fly at ease now like I could then...

  9. I think Leder Nelson was trying to make us clear that in the worse posible situation there's only one name to trust and that name is Jesus Christ but to have that kind of faith enough to not get hysterical in a posible plane crash you have to know your purpose on this earth and have a top level of spirituality to feel totally calm in the worse cases.

  10. W e each get to interpret and read between the lines as our beliefs and life experiences create perspectives. Though this was not the perspective I personally experience, I can also see that your interpretation also makes sense. If you have been marginalized by a community, then you can "see" that marginalization again and again. I have no idea how I will approach my end....will I want to stay because they around me still need me? Will I celebrate that end because I have endure illness and pain? However, I do hope when my times come I can stay with peace "Thy will be done" - a refrain I have done facing other difficulties.Trusting in God does bring peace. My husband sees it as a crutch. My response? If I broke my leg I would use a crutch. If I am wrong about God and there isn't an after life, well it won't matter, because I have ceased to think or feel. My faith is part of me, it brings me peace, it empowers me, and I have had experiences that makes me believe that there is a God and He/she knows me personally. I am LDS not for the church but for the doctrine that works in my life.

  11. I just saw the video. Nelson came off as proud and superior. I couldn't believe the hubris! I was deeply offended.