Saturday, April 2, 2016

Notes on General Conference, Part I

This General Conference has turned out to be pretty tame so far.  While the speakers have unleashed the occasional absurd claim or offensive doctrine upon their audience, I've seen very little so far to whip opponents of the church in too much of a lather.

In fact, the big discussion topic from Saturday's sessions is the church's smallest numerical growth since 1987—which is also its smallest percentage increase since 1937.  I'm sure there will be plenty of statistical analysis on all that stuff in the next few days.

But, anyway, on to the highlights.  As always, these are probably direct quotes that I transcribed myself from a live broadcast.  For that reason, they're perfectly prone to error.  Please feel free to point out any false quotes so I can fix them.

Satan is clever.  He tells those he wishes to be miserable that the joy they once felt was childish self-delusion.
—Henry B. Eyring, Saturday morning session 
Well...I don't know how childish it was.  And there were certainly more people involved in my delusions beyond myself.  But mostly I'm annoyed by how flippantly the church leadership routinely characterizes those who no longer put stock in their swill.

Look, the church is clever.  It tells those who wish to have their preconceptions confirmed that the beliefs they've centered their lives on are still worthy of their unflinching devotion.  It's not about misery or joy, it's about control.

And I'm perfectly aware that I sound like a conspiracy nut when I say stuff like that, but whaddaya gonna do?

...[God] allows some earthly suffering because he knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like him and to gain our eternal inheritance.
—Donald L. Hallstrom, Saturday morning session
Mere minutes after saying this, Hallstrom discussed the time he's spent in Africa and how the people there confront daunting problems like civil war and Ebola.  What Hallstrom didn't discuss is how, exactly, a young child's gruesome death from a horrible disease prepares that child to become like God.

I think his quotation sounds nice and might even be accurate if you only take first world problems into account.  You have to work 80 hours a week and deny yourself regular sleep to support your family?  Well, I suppose an argument can be made that this will build character and teach you to prioritize your life.  I can see how that form of suffering can benefit someone bound for godhood.

But I can't see how an emaciated child spending every waking hour yearning for an adequate amount of nourishment helps anyone.  Hallstrom's anecdote about a spiritually uplifting church meeting in Africa seemed to ignore the real suffering in the continent by focusing on comparatively minor sacrifices that members were influenced to make for the church.

It is never too early to prepare yourself for missionary service.
—Gary E. Stevenson, Saturday morning session 
Of course it is!  That's a huge part of the problem in the first place!  If we stopped drilling the expectation to serve a mission into children's heads and instead tried to instill more useful values and skills, we'd be a lot better off.  A kid who grows up with strong critical thinking skills and a desire to help his fellow human beings is going to be a lot more useful to society than a missionary unwittingly attempting to foist his erroneous religion on the world.

God looketh not upon the color of the jersey or the political party.
—Kevin R. Duncan, Saturday morning session
This was probably my favorite talk of the morning.  Duncan passionately warned us about the ways that that society is falling into a dangerous habit of pitting itself against another faction of itself.  It would have been nice if he'd gone so far as to point out that Mormons and those who disagree with Mormonism can also hold different opinions without despising each other, but I guess you can't win 'em all.    

The greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement.
—Dale G. Renlund, Saturday morning session
I'm not sure I accept the premise here.  It may be true in a lot of cases, I suppose.  But I, for one, feel a lot more entitled to assistance from my friends and family than I do to assistance from, say, the government.

But even if I concede the premise of this statement, I completely disagree with Renlund's approach to it.  He spent his address talking about all the ways that we need to shrink the distance between God and ourselves.  He never once mentioned anything that God is going to do to bridge the gap.  If God is our loving, all-powerful Father in Heaven, why does he leave all the legwork up to us?  Especially considering he's exiled us from his presence and blanked our memories of our time with him, you'd think he'd at least try to meet us halfway.

...if you truly want more Priesthood power, you will cherish and care for your wife, embracing both her and her counsel.
Russell M. Nelson, Priesthood session
This just seems like the most idiotic advice.  Listen, if the reason men are bothering to cherish their wives and listen to their wives' counsel is to increase their Priesthood power, maybe Nelson should be giving an address about how to be a good husband and an all-around decent human being before worrying about amping up the magical power levels.

If I were to ask you, “Who is the greatest leader who ever lived?”—what would you say? The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ. He sets the perfect example of every imaginable leadership quality.
Stephen W. Owen, Priesthood session
Um...not so much.  I mean, assuming that Jesus ever actually existed in any capacity similar to that depicted in the New Testament, it seems like he was a pretty stand-up guy.  And it seems that he quite successfully amassed a loyal following.  But has he maxed out all his stats for every leadership attribute?  I'd say no.

I mean, there was that one time he failed so horribly at keeping his followers in line that one of them betrayed him and got him killed.  And he clearly hadn't taught leadership qualities to his apostles very well, because everything fell apart once Jesus himself wasn't around to oversee his operation personally.  A perfect leader should inspire good leadership and engender strong loyalty, right?  That makes at least two imaginable areas in which Jesus was imperfect.
In God’s eyes, the greatest leaders have always been the greatest followers.
—Stephen W. Owen, Priesthood session
Sound familiar?  I mean, I hate to reuse this picture, but...
I'm lying.  I love to reuse this picture.
Look, it's not the first time the church has tried to turn logic on its head to sell a lie.  I mean, I grew up learning about how the commandments were freeing rather than restrictive and I bought it hook, line and sinker.  When I saw other kids at school doing whatever they wanted with no regard for God's commandments, I was convinced that they were choking off their own ability to choose.  And while I'm sure they had to live with the consequences of whatever they were doing, the fact that I refused to see was that they still had their agency and they allowed themselves to pick from a much broader smorgasbord of behavioral avenues than I did.

Here, Owen is equating leadership with the antithesis of leadership.  He's telling people that holding onto the tail of whoever's in front of you is the same thing as leading by example.  He's telling people that the highest form of leadership is unquestioning obedience.

That makes no sense.  To be fair, I'm doing a lot of reading between the lines here.  He makes his point much less insidiously than I'm implying, but the core concept is the same—he's inspiring people to follow by convincing them it's the same thing as leadership.

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