I've heard many different members of the church bear their testimonies about how much early morning seminary helped them "start the school day off on a spiritual high" and how it benefited them spiritually, personally and scholastically. It's crap. The church membership has a bad habit of latching onto certain phrases and concepts and learning to parrot them back in coherent sentences at a moment's notice. I doubt this is only a phenomenon of Mormonism, but as with any other problematic facet of organized religion, I have a feeling that Mormonism has taken it to the next level and made it...much, much worse.
Anyone who's spent some time in a fast and testimony meeting will recognize these:
- ...with every fiber of my being.
- ...beyond a shadow of a doubt.
- I'm grateful for [laundry list]...
- I don't know where I'd be without the church.
- When those two young missionaries knocked on my door 22 years ago, I knew...
I think these are the "vain repetitions" Jesus warned about in Matthew 6. Some of these people probably mean what they say, but the majority of them are reusing prepackaged phrases without really paying attention to what they're saying or what the words mean. It's a vain repetition because it's meaningless--if it has no meaning, repeating it accomplishes nothing.
Of course, Jesus was talking about prayer when he said that. But we can uncover a lot of the same things if we pay attention to Mormon prayer habits:
- We thank thee for this day...
- Bless the refreshments that they may nourish and strengthen our bodies.
- Bless those that could not be with us today...
- Bless that everyone will drive home safely.
- Bless Brother Christiansen with the spirit that his lesson today will uplift and edify us...
Do some people mean these things? Sure. Some of them think about what they're saying when they're praying. But it is ridiculously easy to get by in the church by faking it. You just have to learn a little doublethink to ram the square world into the round doctrine, remember a lot of frequently-used phrases, and master a firm handshake. And I think...it happens more than most members would like to admit.
I did it--and I did it very well. I was pretty sure several of my peers were faking it, too, with varying degrees of success. The bishop would get up in sacrament meeting and talk about how wonderful the youth of our ward were...but I was one of the best, and all I was really trying to do was blend in. I think that counts as a vain repetition--it's not vain because it's meaningless, it's vain because it's simply not true. And the inspired, God-appointed leader of our ward didn't know that.
There's a lot of vain repetition in Mormonism. And that doesn't seem right to me.