Saturday, October 3, 2015

Notes on the Saturday Morning Session

With another General Conference underway, it's about time for my usual collection of favorite quotes.  And by favorite I mean cathartically damning.  And by quotes I mean mostly accurate selections from my amateur transcript.  But anyway, let's dive right in.

If you ever think that the gospel isn't working so well for you, I invite you to step back, look at your life from a higher plane, and simplify your approach to discipleship.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf 
I liked this talk because he acknowledged that the gospel "doesn't work" for some people, but unfortunately he spent most of his time trying to teach everyone how to get it to work.  I found his advice to simplify ironic, considering that simplifying my approach was what led me out of the church.  When I was struggling with my faith, I decided that it would be best to focus on what mattered most and build from there.  I simplified by putting all my chips on the Book of Mormon and praying for a testimony of its truthfulness.  But when I was not provided with an answer to the simplest question, it kicked my doubts into overdrive.  I was no longer worried that I didn't have a testimony—I was worried that what I was trying to gain a testimony of wasn't true in the first place.

It's also worth pointing out that Uchtdorf, once again, managed to make reference to a plane in his speech, even if it was a geometric one instead of an aeronautical one.

Too many people think church leaders and members should be perfect or nearly perfect.  They forget that the Lord's grace is sufficient to accomplish his work through mortals.  Our leaders have the best intentions, but sometimes we make mistakes.
M. Russell Ballard
This is pretty huge, actually.  It's not exactly an apology (because according to Oaks, the church doesn't apologize) but at least it's an acknowledgement.  The problem is that in a lot of cases, it just doesn't cut it.

While it's certainly unfair to assume that the leaders of the church are perfect, there's a certain standard they should measure up to.  If they can't seem to explicitly condemn the racism, sexism and homophobia so rampant in the church's collective psyche, I think it's safe to say they're just mortals doing mortals' work.  These are not just mistakes.  They are moral oversights that true apostles of a benevolent God would not tolerate.

Young children should practice sharing their testimonies in primary and with their parents in Family Home Evening until they understand the important meaning of a testimony.
M. Russell Ballard
Ballard thinks we should all brainwash our children.

Listen, if your kid doesn't understand the important meaning of a testimony, he probably doesn't have one.  So he shouldn't "practice" sharing it.  If your teenager is mature enough to make his own decisions and wants to get up in church and bear his testimony, then you go right ahead and support him.  But don't teach your young children to practice parroting "I know Joseph Smith is a prophet and Jesus loves me" if they don't know what the hell they're saying.

You may be impressed to be more honest in your business dealings or more generous in your fast offerings.
Larry R. Lawrence 
Most people aren't good at thinking outside the box.  When we're presented with a problem, generally the solutions that we come up with are either ones that are obvious, ones that we've learned from experience, or ones that have been provided to us.  As this Seventy with a ridiculous name (he's basically named Lawrence Lawrence, does nobody else think that's weird?) counsels the world to pray for the knowledge of what else they can be doing to continue their spiritual progress, he slyly asks everyone for money.

Some of his other examples of things we can do are pretty simple or innocuous.  He suggests that members might feel the spirit prompt them to forgive someone or to be more careful about the media they consume or to be more virtuous in their professional lives.  A lot of faithful members might be thinking, "But I don't have any problems with those things.  What can I do to keep progressing?"  And that's when Lawrence suggests forking more cash over to the church.

When the members pray as he's directed, many who struggle with creative problem-solving are going to fall back on the General Authority's most widely applicable advice.  After all, if it's not an obvious problem ("I need to stop looking at porn") or one they've learned from experience ("I still need to stop yelling at my kids so much") the solution will most likely be the one provided for them ("I could probably pay a little more in fast offerings each month").

The suffering and distress endured by the people of this earth is the result of unrepentant and unremitted sin.  Just as suffering and sorrow attend sin, so happiness and joy attend forgiveness of sins.
Francisco J. Viñas, quoting Marion G. Romney 
Make no mistake about this.  In the context of Viñas's address, this is nothing more than blaming the victim.  Shortly before this quote, he mentioned abuse and infidelity.  He's trying to convince us that bad things that happen to us can be the direct results of unresolved sin.  It's true that if you commit a sin like, say, rape, the suffering you endure during your incarceration will be a direct result of your sin.  But the typical Mormon watching this will be wondering if their financial hardships or their family issues or their health problems have been caused by their disobedience and their failure to repent.  When life throws them a curveball, the next pitch will be a guiltball.

Okay, not my best joke.  But my point is that teaching this kind of stuff without making much of an effort to qualify it isn't fair at all.  He's psychologically tormenting his audience.  As they watched this talk, my parents might have been wondering what horrible thing they forgot to repent of that caused their son to leave the church.  You're not helping, here, Viñas.

Those who abandon either righteous conduct or a wholesome, modest appearance expose themselves to lifestyles that bring neither joy nor happiness.
Quentin L. Cook
I like how he uses the word "expose" as though getting a tattoo or using a swear word is akin to breaking a quarantine or or entering a chamber flooded with radiation.  While he's right that doing bad things can open your life up to more bad influences, the worst part about this is his fixation on appearances.

Yeah, if you start murdering people, your lifestyle probably isn't going to bring you happiness.  But if you wear a skirt that doesn't quite go down to your knees, that's not the same thing.  If you have your nose pierced, that's not the same thing.  If you wear a t-shirt with a metal band's logo on it, that's not the same thing.  None of that would be considered "wholesome" by Cook's standards, but it's also much less of a behavioral issue than abandoning righteous conduct is.  Unless you're planning on strolling through an elementary school dressed as a dominatrix, your appearance, for the most part, is not a moral issue.  Wearing yoga pants in public is not a gateway drug that inexorably leads to prostitution and drug abuse.

The church is obsessed with its appearance.  It wants to advertise itself as wholesome.  This is why women aren't supposed to have more than one pair of earrings.  This is why men can't have beards at BYU.  This is why tattoos are frowned upon.  But appearances are not as important as conduct.  Presentation is not everything.  What you look like or dress like is nothing in comparison to who you are and how you behave.

Jesus was poor and probably didn't have much opportunity to make sure he was a snappy dresser.  Nevertheless, I'm willing to bet he worried a lot more about helping and teaching people than he did about making sure he looked "wholesome."


  1. I’m finally getting around to reviewing conference. I have to say that I’ve read all of your posts, and they are brilliant. Great insights!

    Uchtdorf: “Researching things for ourselves is not a bad idea. But I was disregarding truth I could rely on and instead found myself being drawn to the often-outlandish claims of Internet lore. Sometimes, the truth may just seem too straightforward, too plain, and too simple for us to fully appreciate its great value. So we set aside what we have experienced and know to be true in pursuit of more mysterious or complicated information.”

    This is Mormon for: “You don’t need the internet, because the thinking has been done for you.” One piece of advice he offers for members to make the church work better for them is to “simplify.” That is great advice. That’s what I’ve done, and it has led me on the path out of the church. Of course that advice is in direct conflict with the advice given by Bednar over a year ago to take on more burden (remember his talk about putting more wood in the back of a truck to help it get unstruck?)

    Lawrence: His kind of logic makes people in the church go crazy and/or depressed. The amounting of “guilting” in the church is absolutely disgusting. As a missionary, if you’re not “successful,” it’s your fault, because you weren’t worthy enough or weren’t following the rules strictly enough. Nothing is ever good enough. You’re probably right about what your parents are thinking. Here's what mine and my wife's parents would be thinking: Did we miss a family home evening? Did we pray enough? Maybe we should have read the Book of Mormon more? There's that one day a few years ago we forgot the get up early and read scriptures... Etc.

    Cook: I really like your comment here: “Presentation is not everything. What you look like or dress like is nothing in comparison to who you are and how you behave.” How many murderers and rapists are cleaned and dressed up for court to impress the jury? Pretty much every one of them. Ted Bundy sure presented himself well.

    1. Good catch on the Uchtdorf/Bednar contradiction! I'd forgotten about the talk about increasing your load.

      And as far as Ted Bundy goes, I'm pretty sure it was his wholesome appearance that allowed him to lead such an evil existence. His clean-cut, confident, friendly demeanor helped him lure his victims and avoid suspicion. Another good comparison.