Apparently my sister and my brother-in-law, like many Mormon parents, make it a priority to read the scriptures with their children every night. As they read from the Book of Mormon, my four-year-old nephew was understandably confused.
"Why do the Lamanites want to fight the Nephites?" he asked.
"Because they don't like them very much," my brother-in-law answered wisely.
Talk about an oversimplification. Even though I consider the majority of the Book of Mormon's stories to be bordering on the absurd, there's always some kind of explanation provided for why any group goes to war against any other group. They can range from the simple ("because they're wicked and greedy") to the complex ("the Nephites converted too many of their brethren and then helped them escape from their lands, so when the Lamanites came to conquer them, the Nephites stepped up to defend their new friends"), but there's always an explanation with a little more nuance to it than "they don't like them very much."
The question and the answer both indicate that my nephew has almost zero understanding of what's going on in the story. The question demonstrates an absence of knowledge of the most fundamental, most repetitive conflict in the entire book. And the uninformative, oversimplified answer speaks to my brother-in-law's confidence in how much of the real answer the little boy is capable of comprehending. If the kid doesn't understand the basic plots, how can he be expected to understand the spiritual knowledge framed within the context of these narratives? And if he can understand neither the story nor the doctrine, why is anyone even bothering to read this stuff to him?
The only answer that makes sense is that my sister and her husband are trying to instill in him at a young age the importance of reading the scriptures. Or, more accurately, to instill in him at a young age that habitually reading the Book of Mormon on a daily basis is a normal part of family life. He doesn't understand what's going on, but when he gets older, he'll feel more pressured to read the scriptures himself because that's what you do in his family.
|Except that my nephew won't win an Oscar for this.|
When I was discussing my feelings on the church in a series of emails with my dad a while back, he seemed particularly offended when I used the word "brainwashing." But then he sits happily by while his daughter does this. Once I was over there for a family home evening in which my dad played a recording of a primary song from his phone for the opening hymn and helped my nephew remember the words as he cheerily mumbled his way through it with innocent enthusiasm. My dad is offended by the use of the term "brainwashing" but he's intricately involved in perpetrating the exact thing he finds so offensive on his own grandchildren.
I remember what it was like to be in the church, and I know that it doesn't seem like brainwashing from the inside. But from the outside, brainwashing is all that it does look like. After all this hymn-singing and Book-of-Mormon-reading and programming and conditioning, ten years down the road, my nephew is going to be racked with guilt every time he lets his eyes linger a second too long over a pretty girl. He's going to have expectations and goals and standards and requirements foisted upon him and he might feel as though there's nothing he could do to ever measure up. He might go through high school feeling like he's just barely staying afloat and that the best he can do is tread water and stave off drowning for just a little longer. And all of that turmoil and guilt and desperation can be traced back to the intense brainwashing of his upbringing.
I don't want him to go through the kinds of things I went through. I don't want him to go through the kinds of things that are far worse than what I went through but still possible from Mormonism. But it's also not my job to raise him. It's not my place to step in. So I'll continue to watch him grow up in a loving, unified, well-off, but relentlessly pressuring family. And I'll have to strive to be the cool uncle so that one day I could be the only person he's comfortable talking to about the heavy stuff. And maybe I'll eventually be able to help him.
But until then, I'll just have to do my best not to vomit when I'm unfortunate enough to be in attendance for my sister's family home evenings.