Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Kids Can't Handle the "Truth"

One of my most frequent personal criticism of the LDS church is the way it brainwashes its children with doctrinal concepts too complex for young minds to properly comprehend.  The more time I spend away from the church, the more it frustrates me that members can't see this problem.

A few recent emails from some of my family members have been particularly baffling.  One of my sisters related an experience she had trying to talk to her primary class about L. Tom Perry's recent passing.
I asked them how they thought his family was feeling right now, and the response that I got was that they were probably happy because he was in heaven now.  Um, okay, maybe, but don't you think they will miss him?
Too many Sunday school lessons about how great heaven is and how important it is to go there seem to have dulled these kids' capacity for empathy.  These are children who are old enough to be baptized.  Probably none of them has had a death in his own family yet, but if you're expected to comprehend the importance of Jesus's suffering and death enough that you're qualified to make an informed decision to be baptized, you'd think having a good handle on how death works and how it can affect people would also come with the territory.

Another of my sisters has been looking for poems she can read to her young children and asked for suggestions.  She expressed frustration with Google, because apparently some of the poetry it suggested to her was about death, and poems about death were not good for children.  Of course, her sons have read through the picture-book version of the Book of Mormon with all its violent stories and they've been taught about Jesus and how he died for them, but surely acknowledging death outside of an LDS context can only spell disaster.

Another story from a primary class shared with my family this week was about a 9-year-old girl who taught part of the lesson on Sunday.  Apparently, she did well until an awkward bit at the end.
She had her cousin visiting that day, and so she called on her to say the closing prayer.  I had assumed the whole time that this cousin was a member, but she asked how to start a prayer.  I couldn't tell if she was being serious or just being silly.  The other kids prompted her, so she started properly, asked for it to rain cupcakes and unicorns, and then ended.  I'm not even sure if she said amen or not.  The rest of the class looked at her like she was crazy.  They didn't even laugh (which was surprising) and then someone suggested that we have someone else say a real prayer.
Well, that's one person who will probably never step foot in a Mormon chapel again.  The girl who was teaching, of course, should never have called on her cousin to do something that she was clearly unfamiliar with and uncomfortable with.  She's nine, though, so maybe she just didn't realize how horribly she was putting her cousin on the spot.  Still, the rest of the class staring at her "like she was crazy" probably didn't help.

But they probably had no idea how to react because they're so unaccustomed to what other children think about God or about how to talk to him.  Many of them probably have never considered what it was like not to know how to pray they way they've been taught to pray their whole lives.  I remember thinking that saying grace over dinner was the weirdest thing when I encountered it for the first time at a Boy Scout camp when I was maybe twelve or thirteen.

The icing on the cake, though, is the suggestion that someone else say a "real" prayer.  I'm not sure if that's my sister's wording or a direct quote from the kid, but either way, it sucks to be that cousin.  Her attempt at communication with her Father in Heaven was apparently unacceptable, so it needs to be redone by someone who knows how to do it the right way.  Sure, she prayed for unicorns and cupcakes, but if we really believe in a loving God, he was listening anyway, and he was certainly listening to what was in her heart, even if she didn't say it aloud.  Instead of accepting her unstructured prayer to make her feel welcome and to encourage her to pray in the future, her peers discarded her feeble effort and replaced it with their own "acceptable" version.  And my sister presided over the whole mess, encouraging the one-sided development of their worldview through her failure to intervene.

I hate how the church fosters these attitudes in people.  I was like that, and I still have trouble shedding some of the behaviors and biases and preconceptions that were pounded into me for the first twenty years of my life.

I had a friend in middle school who was a very vocal evangelical Christian, and he spent a lot of time trying to convert me.  Looking back, the arguments that I made when I discussed religion with him weren't fact-based in any way.  I just knew he was wrong because all I knew was that I was right.  I wasn't addressing his claims on a scriptural basis or a logical basis, I was simply frustrated and confused by the fact that stating my own religious belief wasn't changing his mind.  I spent five days a week in school surrounded by people from other backgrounds and belief systems, but because of the ironclad programming of primary classes from years before, I still couldn't understand the ways that other people saw the world and experienced life.  I was too Mormon to comprehend it.  If 9-year-old me had encountered somebody in church who had no clue how to pray, I'm sure I'd have reacted much the same way:  This girl doesn't know how to pray?  How do you not know how to pray?

Children don't get it.  They can't get it.  But the church knows what children can wrap their brains around:  their parents.  Their parents are the highest authority they've ever known.  If their parents spend too much time teaching them about Jesus and Joseph Smith, about how Democrats are destroying the country, about how Wal-Mart is the worst place on earth and about how violins are the most beautiful sounding of all the instruments, most of these impressionable kids are going to grow up into devoutly Mormon, vehemently Republican, loyal Target shoppers with a weird rosin fetish.  That's just how it works.  The church knows that early indoctrination can take a lifetime to unravel if it ever starts unraveling at all, and the way it uses that knowledge to abuse its power and the way it gets its members to help is one of the most disgusting crimes of which the church has ever been guilty.

Worst of all, the abuse feeds itself.  My sisters are good people, but they can't see the damage being done to these kids because it was done to them, too, and none of this stuff, when seen through the corruption-colored glasses of Mormon indoctrination, seems wrong.


  1. Amazing that a teacher would call on the visitor to give the closing prayer. Or maybe not so amazing. When we were visiting my MIL at her UT rehab center (she was recovering from a broken hip) the bishop in the small sacrament meeting they held there asked my husband to give the closing prayer. Mark was dressed in blue jeans, a t-shirt and a sports coat. Maybe the coat made him look official. Anyhow, for the sake of his mom, he agreed and gave the stock Mormon prayer. I think the cupcake/unicorn version would have been better.

    At any rate, to your point, you make a good one. Children in the LDS Church are programmed more than they are taught.

    1. Programmed more than taught, engineered more than raised, right?

      In your husband's place, I don't think I could have done it. I'd have felt ridiculous, whether I was giving a unicorn prayer or a stock prayer.

  2. Two things stood out to me as I read this post.

    1) Why are your sisters sharing this with you? To me, it seems they are complaining about about how the church leads kids to think in very abnormal ways.

    2) I read a stat the other day that suicide is the #1 cause of death of teens in Utah. My son's high school has had 3 in the last 1 1/2 years and his old junior high also had one. This is an area where well over 90% of the kids attend seminary. In order to console each other, they will say something like "now they are in a better place." A friend of mine told me that in her stake in Springville, Utah, there have been 8 youth suicides in the last 2 years. I can't help but wonder if this teaching from an early age contributes to this epidemic.

    1. 1. I think a lot of my family members actually hate the church, they just don't realize it. These emails go out to all the immediate family and I'm the only one who isn't an active member of the church, so mostly I think they're just commiserating with each other about some of the pitfalls and frustrations of LDS life. Most of it doesn't come off as complaining in context. But even the stuff that does...they can complain without ever thinking to blame the church for anything.

      2. I've heard that teen suicide is high in Utah. I have no idea what causes it, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mormonism was somehow a contributing factor. Either way, it's very sad. I don't know what the number one cause of teen death should be, but it definitely shouldn't be suicide.