2006-12-28 : Society and the heart of religion

I'm making a whole new post about this because a) the original thread was already plenty long, and b) the Forge has rubbed off on me.

Once upon a time, regarding the LDS church and in conversation with Brand Robins, I said,

The fact that you have to get away from a religion's heart to see it at its best, doesn't that tell you something about the heart of the religion?

To this, Stephen M (Ethesis) responds, more recently,

No, it merely tells you a great deal of what happens when society eclipses religion.

It may be that you already know this, Steve, I can't guess, but I'm positive that not everyone knows it: one of the things that Mormons get up to, both leaders in the church and its lay members, is declaring the church to be corrupt to the core. There's a robust tradition of malcontentment within the religion, cast in pretty extreme terms. Look at my dad's identification of the mainstream of the faith with Babylon Mother of Harlots, for instance (and he was, of malcontents, a moderate case).

Anyway, consequently, that quick exchange between Brand and me was the tip of an iceberg - it was an invocation of a whole institutional conversation.

So Steve! Are you talking about the LDS church vs. society in particular, or religion vs. society in more general?

1. On 2006-12-28, Larry Lade said:

(Sorry to butt in before Steve answers, but I had already formed some thoughts on this when it was mentioned in the original thread, so I'm happy you seized on the subject.)

I had assumed this notion holds up in the general. I've heard many such things regarding the dubious mores and scandals of Roman Catholic clergy in Rome (in ways that only travel by word-of-mouth and rumor) versus away from that core.

I think it even applies beyond religion. It can be observed in the corruption and jadedness of, say, federal politicians in Washington versus the rest of the country.

I think it's ultimately about how being involved in that administrative core and the various politics of leadership leads to erosion of idealism and to worldliness. How's that saying about the making of laws and sausages go again?


2. On 2007-01-03, Dave Younce said:

(I think you know that) I'm LDS, same as your father, same as Brand, (I don't think you self-identify as LDS, but maybe I'm wrong). I lived in Utah for about a year - started my college career at BYU and decided it wasn't the place for me. One of the reasons I said to myself was that people were 'too homogenous'.  I think what I probably meant was that (having grown up in a place with relatively few church members) I was used to the fact that my beliefs stood out a little, and I liked that. The problem (or a problem, anyway) with living there was that anybody who was a jerk to you or stole your girlfriend or whatever was probably LDS, too, and so if you wanted to, you could easily find examples of people being hypocritical or not living up to their beliefs.

On the other hand, people as a whole were exceedingly polite, helpful, courteous, and accommodating. At least that was my experience. I guess what I'm getting at is that when you go someplace with the most Mormons, you'll see the best Mormons and the worst ones. You may even see enough of the worst ones to feel like the populace as a whole is corrupt, but I doubt that's really the case. I'm guessing that all your neighbors in Utah are human beings with faults and issues, same as anyone, but that in general they'd be pretty decent neighbors.

That's the general case I'm getting to. That in a concentration of people, any people, if you're looking for hypocrisy, you'll find it. Even in religious communities. Even in religious communities with good ideas (whether or not you believe the LDS church is such a case). That "what happens when society eclipses religion" is that people are people, in or out of religion, and the 'heart of our religion' is full of imperfect people who are no more (and possibly no less) corrupt than any other society.

As for the grand tradition of declaring the church and its populace to be corrupt, I've always just chalked that up to the Jeremiad tradition of preaching. It's a common and popular way to preach, in and out of the LDS church. Deuteronomy 28; Lamentations; Alma 5; Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God; Jesus himself cleansing the temple and preaching against the Pharisees in Matthew 6, and so forth. When you want to inspire a change, its generally pretty common practice to demonstrate that the population you're talking to is in need of change.  Also, I don't see all much of that from the Church or its leaders these days, but maybe that's not a shared perception.

I could go on a whole page or two about what I understood from your story about your what your father said - but that's best for a non-internet discussion. Maybe at Camp Nerdly.


3. On 2007-01-03, Vincent said:

Dave, cool!

I don't see much of it from the LDS church proper these days either, but I'm not paying attention so what do I know. In my lifetime, though, the prophet declared from the General Conference pulpit that the church was under condemnation because its members don't read the Book of Mormon.

Oh and I'm no longer a member. I had my name removed from the membership rolls back in '93 or '94. That's a funny story I'll tell sometime.


4. On 2007-01-04, Dave Younce said:

'under condemnation' and 'corrupt to the core' are kinda far apart on the spectrum, aren't they?  About as different as 'Membership Rolls' and 'Self-Identification', I'd say. Not opposites or anything, just plenty of ground in between them.


5. On 2007-01-04, Vincent said:

Sure, plenty of ground. I've got no beef.


6. On 2007-01-11, Brand Robins said:

Its worth noting, late to the conversation, the my particular beef is also a near institutional thing—a complaint about Utah Mormons (who also include some Idaho, Arizona, and Wyoming Mormons) by those from outside the former state of Deseret.

In this case I think its an issue of unavoidable different perspective. You can't help but come up differently in the church (or the gospel) when you live in a town that's 99% Mormon with 100% home teaching than when you come up as the only Mormon in your school, and have your head beaten in with a bat because of your religion.


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