Beauty, Perception & Reality
Thanks Trev for the video. Very inspiring, very true.
Beauty, Perception & Reality
Thanks Trev for the video. Very inspiring, very true.
The priesthood correlation program in the LDS church gives rise to challenging questions that are not altogether easy to answer. With its filtering mechanism to select, shape, censure, and simplify important doctrinal issues, I am led to ask—
What are the costs and benefits of this program? What are its strengths and weaknesses? How might a broad, unifying curriculum damage the questing-questioning spirit of the gospel? How might it be of aid? Is boredom a problem? If the goal is doctrinal unification, how do we reconcile past doctrine with new, paradoxical doctrine? Which prophetic teachings do we embrace? Which do we jettison? Are we destined to become pious automatons as a result of this program? Or is there still a way to resist such systemization, to rise above the parroted clichés, to become involved in an intensely personal act of self-transformation because of, or perhaps even in spite of, this program?
As I see it, the revelation of a panoramic correlation effort has done well to eliminate wild theology and stifle its chaotic, uncontrolled expressions. Such expressions, had they been maintained, would have led to the dissolution of LDS authority at wide and dismissal of coherent LDS religion as it now exists. Students of early church history understand this well. They know how widely incoherent the early brethren’s views were on doctrinal issues.
Brigham Young and Orson Pratt, for example, argued over the nature of intelligence; one saw intelligence as a progressive-democratic eternality, the other as a benevolent, hierarchal dictatorship. John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff disagreed on the eternal merits of polygamy. Joseph Fielding Smith favored creationism; James Talmage took to evolution. Bruce McConkie defended the idea of an epistemic divine ceiling that even God himself could not surpass, while B.H. Roberts defied this idea and taught the doctrine of progressive, divine eternalism.
All of these capricious views raise serious and troubling questions: If the brethren themselves, being called of God, are not bound together with unified hearts and minds, how can the average lay member of the church even begin to rely upon their teachings? Whose views are most favorable? Whose views lead us closer to Christ? Would the church not self-destruct in the wake of such disorderliness?
These questions, for some, have led to doubt, distrust, and disenchantment.
It is no wonder then why between the 1920’s and 1960’s careful attention was given to install a Correlation Committee under the direction of the First Presidency to screen and filter those opinions, quotes, and other historical documents that contradicted the official positions, policies and doctrines of the church. Widespread consistency and a unified curriculum was desperately needed to avoid the protestant schisms and fractured versions of Mormonism from rising up and destroying group harmony. To do this it became apparent that the words of living oracles had to overrule the words of dead ones. The same still holds true today within the LDS Church.
The philosophic ground and hermeneutical permutations of church doctrine that led to the death of the speculative tradition and the birth of the correlation tradition is, to me, something to be feared and revered. I will discuss here just a few of the shortcomings and potential dangers this program inadvertently has on the gospel spirit and conclude with the positive impacts this program means to engender upon members as a whole.
One defect of correlation screening lies in its tendency to dehumanize, to turn us into robots that speak the same, feel the same, dress the same, heaven forbid—bear testimony using the same catch phrases and buzz words. Individuality feels lost in this program. Groupthink is overvalued. The more inquiring of us get bored easily at church. And as a result of this mass roboticism we take an overly simplistic approach towards teaching church history, principles, etc. Latter-day Saints (especially eighteen-year old missionaries) who come across anti-Mormon literature because of rumors they hear or those who challenge them in the streets are typically less prepared to deal with difficult statements, doctrines, and practices performed by past church authorities.
For example, few church members know of Joseph Smith’s involvement in treasure digging, or that he used a peep stone to translate The Book of Mormon. They know little to nothing about issues of plural marriage and blacks and the priesthood, let alone the racist speech acts of Brigham Young and Bruce McConkie. They never knew Joseph was a practicing mason, that he drank alcohol the night of his martyrdom, or that he ordered the destruction of a public printing press in Carthage, Illinois that some argued was a breach of freedom of the press.
These kinds of issues and others are rarely if at all discussed in the church at wide. They slip through the cracks as though history were being forgotten, or erased like in some George Orwell novel. This, of course, has drastic consequences. People leave the church, get shunned, lose families, embitter marriages, grow angry, anxious, and depressed, feel isolated and alone, and in extreme cases, commit suicide.
I personally feel that if these things were confronted and dealt with during Sunday school there would be less of an impulse for some to react with fear and disaffection when learning about them. Many have needlessly left the church over these issues because of what they feel is some clandestine cover-up, or ploy made by their leaders to hide embarrassment and failure. They feel they’re being lied to. They feel betrayed by those they trusted.
Admittedly, I’m not sure exactly why we omit these troubling points, other than they are troubling. I’m hesitant even to say we should incorporate this stuff into our curriculum because very few of us could probably faithfully situate these facts into a narrative without coming across painfully apologetic. I mean, suppose our leaders were in some cases actually wrong, racist, suspect, or imperfect. Would this warrant then a swift, sweeping explanation on behalf of the correlated apologist, whose attitude is sometimes dismissively naïve? Or worse, would this warrant the critic to claim that the entire church must then be false?
Neither approach I think is desirable. I think the mere fact that ugly truths exist showcases very humbly that God has and always will use imperfect people to bring about His purposes. No amount of finger-pointing, or singling out human weakness, can ever pigeonhole the Gospel Spirit. There is the Gospel Spirit and then there is us—we who interpret that Spirit, who try to live up to its magnificent heights. We don’t always do that. But neither do our leaders. And that may come as a surprise to some members of the church.
For me, knowing that my leaders are fallible provides an opportunity for me to exercise faith and forgiveness on behalf of those who meant to live well but sometimes came up short. There is nothing wrong with this. If anything, it leads me to believe that God hardly holds prophets to higher standards than myself, so I shouldn’t at all be surprised when I discover that they’re actually humans. I would hope others judge me by the same standard.
Correlation means to do well. It means to sanitize the world, to simplify the gospel for the lowest common denominator so that no soul is left behind. This proves exacerbating for the intellectual who desires to learn the meatier mysteries, or at least discuss them realistically in Sunday school. But, in the spirit of Eugene England, the fact that correlation creates exacerbation and boredom in the intellectual is among its strengths. Correlation-laden lessons engender those weightier virtues in the intellectual, of love, humility, longsuffering, meekness, etc. Those virtues come to the intellectual not by being surrounded by other like-minded smarty pants, who, as we know it, puff up his ego, but by learning to love, yes, love—love even the idiot who said in my priesthood lesson last week that God could have instantly waved a wand to make us like him, if it so were his desire. Yes, even those who preach false doctrine need to be loved.
But I digress.
Correlation seems to me like a personified father. It wants to rigorously protect us from the ugliness of the world, even at the cost of shielding us from certain truths. This is not the same as saying that correlation is necessarily deceptive. It merely means that our historical record is complex. It’s muddy, ambiguous, raging with imperfection, so much that if our attention is given wholly to quibbling over the reality that human weakness exists, we’re losing sight of what the gospel, in its purest form, means to inspire in the lowliest of the low.
President Packer illustrates this idea in the following way: “I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting. It destroys. We should only focus on those aspects of the truth that inspire and uplift.”
Correlation is very much dedicated to the inspirational, devotional aspects of our discipleship. It values love over truth, which is to say it places love in a primacy relation to truth—not to minimize or ignore it— but is suspect of those who use the truth to malign others or to weave anti-Christ narratives. It is here that I agree most with the correlation effort, believing that while the modern LDS church at wide has sadly lost the questing-questioning spirit of the early pre-correlated church, I can still marvel at how it means to bring the divine and the human together through simple acts of priesthood service, ordinances, and basic principles taught in the classroom. Correlation is not about accelerating our knowledge at the cost of losing others. It is about calling those “others” our brothers and sisters and waiting, hoping, and working with them as they receive the gospel. Milk for milk, and meat later on. That is how I think the divine works with each of us.
“Looking for some perspective from my religious friends: When does watching TV become a sin? (Not in quantity watched, but content viewed)”
I think the heart of your question—When does media consumption become sinful?—is deeply personal and really doesn’t lend itself to some universal formula that can be applied to everyone. We don’t all share the same sensitivities, and because of that, like Trevor argues, the way in which media affects us is going to differ from person to person. Now, aside from asking whether everyone should share the same sensitivities, the fact is we don’t. Our disparate experiences and feelings may even cause us to admit that what is right for one person may not be for another. This sentiment isn’t necessarily tantamount with moral relativism, though I agree it is often abused and leads to a slippery slope of errant justification, or becoming “past-feeling.”
I think your question can be better revised by asking not what content we view, but what is our purpose in watching it. Motive always eclipses content.
Let’s take pornography as an example.
First off—what is it? Is it merely viewing a naked body? If so, is it a sin to take a nude life drawing class, or to spend a few hours walking through the Sistine Chapel? Could a sound case be made for or against a claim stating that these activities are perniciously pornographic? Clearly some images push us to concupiscence, while others do not—and this is a deeply personal affection, differing from person to person. Of course, there is a big difference between the juxtaposition of nude art within the Vatican versus the nudity on billboards right outside the Vatican. The irony is delicious and illustrates a serious point: pornography must be more than sexual explicitness—its purpose must also be to arouse a passion in an unhealthy way.
Let’s apply pornography to film now.
Some of my most powerful spiritual experiences have come from deeply sexually explicit films. Will this be true for everyone? Probably not. A Clockwork Orange (R), Black Swan (R) and Shame (NC-17) are films with lots of sexual imagery. It is true that some people will get off on the content of these films, using them as sources of indulgence. It is these same people who I think are in need of some serious therapy. These are films that portray sex as so unsexy, so joyless, that to actually call them pornographic (which must entail a pleasure) makes for an attractive sort of irony.
When viewing these films, I am not looking to get off. I am looking at these films as extensions of the writers and directors who produced them—people who seem to suffer with, and want answers to, painful, distressing realities.
Reflecting on my baptismal covenant to mourn with those who mourn, I typically do not like to dismiss these films and their thoughtful portrayals of the human condition just because some people assume that their Church leaders have told them to trust a flawed organization (the MPAA) which is operated by people who produce movies which they complain about. The double-standard is implacable.
These films are tragedies at heart, the directors of which know how to tell the difference between an evil story and a good story that depicts evil. And since all forms of media depict evil somewhere, the well-meaning but functionally unequipped censor should really learn that the mere depiction of evil is not necessarily wrong—especially if negative consequences are shown and understood. The directors and writers of these films are not always in agreement with their characters choices either, and I would dare say these films above ever glamorize evil without showing its final, truthful consequences.
For me it’s about motive and why we’re watching certain media and less about complying with narrowly rendered interpretations of ecclesiastical counsel to avoid the bad in media. Unfortunately, the focus on what is “inappropriate” or “sinful” seems to have eclipsed the ability of some to focus on the positive in art and media. They spend more time counting the offenses, on cutting or altering “inappropriate” scenes, which seem to ignore the spirit of the Gospel. I think it’s really about seeking out good, inspirational art and entertainment and less about counting the offenses or swear words.
What started off as a small and simple text has now become a grand, connubial adventure :)
Among the countless reasons why people leave the LDS Church, one of them relates to the discrepancy people sense between ideal and real narratologies found in church history. The stories people learn in Sunday school, for example, do not always fit congruently with the historical narrative; or, perhaps, the historical narrative itself reveals things that cause people to feel uncomfortable, to shirk faith, or to question why their leaders gave them a whitewashed view of the early Saints instead of the austere facts.
I admit—I am already beginning to paint a precarious picture here with this dichotomy between whitewash and austere views of church history. That’s not to say this dichotomy is inaccurate—in fact, it is very real and very much at the cerebral helm of those who struggle to reconcile their faith with the muddy details of church history and its imperfect leaders.
The danger I face in creating this dichotomy is two-fold:
1). Critics of the church will mistakenly cling to one side of the dichotomy, believing that the facts found, for example, in the Journal of Discourses, ought to compel any rationally-minded individual to completely abandon the LDS project, though little taking into account that these “facts” are always situated in a larger context: compiled, arranged, and selected as they are from a chaotic pool of other “facts” to tell a story—the arrangement of which may be possessed by a dishonest, malevolent or ignorant spirit.
2). Apologetics of the church will mistakenly cover up, belittle, or overlook uncomfortable quotations made by the early brethren in order to preserve the whitewash view from becoming exposed and dealt with. The more church history is kept from open, critical discussion, the more angry and lied to people will feel as they begin to read the history themselves.
Damaged testimonies seem inevitable on both ends.
The brethren risk discussing the grittier details of church history at the cost of offending or perhaps influencing others to renounce church membership, or, they risk not discussing those details at the cost of offending, still, those insiders who would argue a duplicitous scheme was being staked. There are great risks involved on what the Church or its leaders have or haven’t said or done to minimize damaged testimonies, especially with regards to the utilitarian function General Conference serves to maximize the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
There are no easy answers to this. One thing that’s obvious though is that it isn’t the brethren’s calling to turn General Conference into an academic fracas—only to preach the gospel of faith, repentance, baptism and the reception of the Holy Ghost.
I don’t believe the reason why the brethren evade the tougher issues has anything to do with embarrassment as it has more to do with being sensitive to the brittle faith of church members. Perhaps it is true—we all need milk before meat. The problem with this position is how to reach those who feel and are marginalized (e.g. intellectuals, homosexuals, democrats, etc.). As the brethren speak to the church collectively—that is, as they lay down the stern law as prescribed in the scriptures—perhaps it is up to the members to interpret the law with love unfeigned towards those who struggle with, and want answers to, painful distressing realities—even as they relate to historical and theological imperfections.
What I have said is not at all an indictment against how church policy is run. It is more of an exploration of the heights, depths and potentials of Mormonism.
What are the big issues? How should we deal with dissent? How do we become more balanced in our religious beliefs/praxis?
Church correlation programs fascinate me when I ponder these questions. I am curious about how information is presented, what information is presented, and how this entwines the principle of possession into open dialogue. In other words, what spirit are critics in possession of when they highlight the muddier realities found in church history and imperfect humans? What are their goals? Motives? And what spirit are apologetics in possession of when they seek to defame and correct those criticisms?
Correlation programs are complex and versatile, though yes—conservative—but I wonder sometimes if that isn’t just because the brethren are careful about discerning the intentions of those who raise difficult issues. Handled in the wrong or misinformed way could be disastrous, not to mention serve a malevolent spirit. The question remains on how to make room for both critics and apologetics alike—what is they’re place in the church, and how do we continue to love those whose opinions differ from our own?
Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit, but it seems that no matter how you answer these questions, damage and offenses are bound to be present.
Today in Sunday School the teacher began the class by asking the question, “Did the Great Apostasy have to happen?” I’m pretty sure he was fishing for an affirmative answer, but I was squirming inside. Answering “yes” to such a question would affirm belief in an “interloper God,” for lack of a better term, who carefully micromanages history towards a predetermined end. That phraseology sounds bleakly Calvinistic, but I feel like this perception of God is well embraced in Mormon theology – from believing that the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora was precipitated by God to lead Joseph Smith’s family from Vermont to New York, to believing (in more modern times) that God will put a suitable marriage partner in our path if we ask him.
I’m not saying the above scenarios are impossible or foolish; I just have a difficult time believing in such a God. Some members are very comfortable with a God that is carefully orchestrating everything behind the scenes. This belief often comes out in such affirmations as “God is in control, so all things will work out in the end” or “God is all powerful, so he can make anything come to pass that needs be.” I can understand the desire to believe in a God who is confidently steering the world by the reigns, but I just have a difficult time making sense of it. For God to intervene in our lives on such a micro level to influence macro-level changes in the world (e.g., precipitating events like the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, and the American Revolution to pave the way for the Restoration in the 1820s, as is commonly believed in the church) I feel would not only be insanely complex; it would also seem to necessitate, at some point, a breach of agency, or at least a manipulation of it.
I am left to believe in a more hands-off, deistic God. A God that has limits, or perhaps little to no contact with us on earth. While belief in such a God may provide a solution for some things, like the age-old problem of evil and the reason behind his noticeable silence in many of our lives, it also has its constraints. What am I to make of Christ’s atonement if he has no divinity? What am I to make of revelation and priesthood – two central concepts in Mormon theology? From a purely deistic approach, much of the theological underpinnings of religion crumble. Can’t I have a healthy medium between the two?
I apologize for all of the rambling in this post. As you can see, I am still trying to work out my conception of God. At the moment I’d like to believe in a God that can interact with us, but only if he has certain limitations. I can only believe in a God that works within the constraints of some universal law – not above law. The all-powerful, “micromanager” God doesn’t make sense to me. And, on the flip side, the impersonal God of deism doesn’t inspire me. I would love to hear any conclusions you have come to about God (and I promise to be respectful of all approaches).
I heard a story several years back at the Marriot Center that created an intense, existential dread in me, and it came from Elder Packer during a CES fireside.
He said, and I quote:
“We often wonder who is in charge of our lives—is it us, or (pointing heavenwards) Him? What I have come to believe after living on this earth for many years is that it’s ultimately us.”
I remember how I felt after hearing this—scared, alone, dejected. I drove home depressed that night. So much of my life had been me wanting to look over my shoulder and ask—that is, ask someone smarter, someone god-like—if what I was doing was the capital “R” right thing. And now it was up to me? To shoulder it all? Maybe I was fooled, lazy, too much enchanted—wanting someone else to dictate my life for me.
In existential philosophy they call this, “retreating to the authorities.”
The existentialists don’t mean this in some condescending or dismissive way either: what they’re getting at is—and this may have been a hidden implication of Elder Packer—is that the meaning and purpose of life isn’t freely granted to you by your parents, or the education system, or the government or even God.
Instead, it’s you! You need to endow your life with meaning and purpose. You have to shoulder the heavy responsibility of becoming a co-participant alongside God, to actively make choices and make life meaningful.
Now this isn’t to suggest we are without the Holy Ghost to inspire and uplift us when we’re feeling sad and alienated, but it does suggest that the burden of choice is upon us to make our lives purposeful. This is, after all, a time of loneliness. A time of deserts and trials. We can experience heaven’s help—heaven’s intervention—to the extent that we learn to awaken our own inner divinity, a process, I believe, that occurs in real time as we help others realize their divine potential.
Is there room enough for apologetics in LDS discourse? And if so, how do we distinguish between good and bad apologetics?
On one side there is the notion that anti-Mormon speech acts need to be vigorously responded to, and defended against, while on the other side there are challenging and problematic concerns raised by critics of the Church who deserve sympathetic reactions.
One question for LDS apologetics to consider is how to sympathize with LDS exit narratives without permissively opening the doors to the mistaken belief that all perspectives are somehow of equal worth.
Let me put that a different way, in the form of a question:
Ought there to be walls that separate the sacred from the profane?
The moment we fantasize about the meaning of this question and answer yes—there should be!—we simultaneously commit ourselves to the position of closing ourselves off to certain kinds of beliefs that would otherwise harm or threaten us.
The problem is when those beliefs are embodied by those we love, and how to love them still, and address their concerns, and hang around them without shutting the doors.
These are sensitive matters. Sacred matters.
I’m still thinking.
What was a total oddity a year ago, and little more than an experiment just 18 months ago is now starting to look like a real product. One that could be in the hands (or on the heads, rather) of consumers by the end of this year. A completely new kind of computing device; wearable, designed to reduce distraction, created to allow you to capture and communicate in a way that is supposed to feel completely natural to the wearer. It’s the anti-smartphone, explicitly fashioned to blow apart our notions of how we interact with technology.
The Habermeyer Harlem Shake
Just learned that this harlem thing is sort of a big deal right now.
Also learned my brother made one with his family.
Tumbling Down the LA Rabbit Hole
Upon reflection, I find it curious that no pictures ever taken, or words ever spoken, can truly capture the whisperings of the human heart.
Dedicated to a special friend, her depth and quiet charm, here’s looking at us.
Don’t stop chasing.
I think that one of the biggest reason why relationships do not work out in the long run is because at one point, one side (or both) stops trying. Before one claims another person as their significant other, they would do anything to make that person happy. They would chase, they would flirt, they would be charming. They would send daily morning and goodnight texts every time you wake up or go to sleep. They would write corny messages and pick up lines just to make sure that there is a smile upon your face. But once they claim you as theirs, all of those things eventually stop. The 5 page texts slowly turn into 1. The constant calls turn into not calling at all. And the lovely endearments turn into daily arguments. In order for a relationship to work, don’t ever stop chasing. Just because the person you want is now consider “yours”, it does not mean they deserve anything less than the time when you’re trying to win them over.
There are two sides to every secret, parted by a door.
Those who know, and those who do not.
To know is to revel in experience, to give flesh to otherwise worn words.
To not know is to guess about experience, or maybe read about it in a book.
There are many kinds of secrets, both known and unknown.
And some are only privy between lovers.
She is my secret, an experience unbound but known.
The Glory of Love
My 15-year old self thought he was pretty amorous.
Not much has changed 15 years later.
I’m thinking a redux may be in order, like maybe filmed in 7D and sporting a GQ suit.
The view from the top of Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel. It was really rather spectacular!
Gonna have to side with your mother on this one: pretty sure the only thing taking in the view was the camera :)