Sunday, May 13, 2018

Some Things that are Useful are Not True

One of my sisters has recently started asking me questions about my disaffection from the church.  Our discussion got to the point at which she asked me what doctrines I disagreed with.  I gave her a pretty long list, and she was surprisingly willing to go through them one by one in as much detail as you can manage in a text message conversation.  She agreed that many of my points were valid, although she stuck up for the church on a few others.  One thing that really shocked me was that, when we were talking about the Book of Mormon and how I think so many of the stories sound blatantly made-up, she volunteered a criticism. 


She didn't understand how, when the armies of Coriantumr and Shiz were destroying each other, nobody on either side loved their families enough to flee from the violence.  She introduced the absurdity of Ether into the conversation, not me.  It was a fruitful debate and I think I did a decent job of demonstrating that my disgust for church doctrines is an entirely separate issue to how I feel about the average Mormon, so she was curious rather than offended.

A few weeks later, she followed up by email to "stick up for the Jaredites," at least for the first part of their chronicle.  She explained that she loves the story of the Jaredite journey to America because she sees it as a metaphor for life.  She told me that, because life is so hard, she likes the idea that God guides us, provides us light and direction during our journey, and greets us once we've arrived safely.  She finds comfort in the Book of Ether when she feels overwhelmed.

My sister has a lot going on.  She has three kids, some of whom have some unusual medical needs, and she's two states away from her nearest parent or sibling.  She and her husband, of course, have plentiful demands on their time from the church and they have that special brand of existential anxiety that comes from being raised as devout Mormons.  I think she feels overwhelmed more frequently than the average person does.  So it makes complete sense to me that she would like the metaphor of the Jaredite journey and that she would turn to the scriptures for comfort.

This brings to mind a kind of corollary to Boyd K. Packer's infamous assertion that "some things that are true are not very useful":  some things that are useful are not true.

If Ether keeps my sister from feeling like she's drowning, terrific.  But that's not the same thing as Ether being a true record of a true religion.  Santa Claus has helped countless parents convince their children not to misbehave in December.  Santa Claus is useful, but not true.  Ether may be useful, but it's not true.

If the Jaredite story is helpful to my sister, I'm not about to send her everything wrong with the Book of Mormon.  I'm not going to say, "Hey, look, this is all a lie, where can you turn for peace, where is your solace, and where is your god now?  Bwahaha."  That would be heartless.  But I'm tempted anyway because I'm convinced that an enormous portion of her problem stems from the church.  She wouldn't need the Book of Mormon to help her not feel overwhelmed if Mormonism hadn't overwhelmed her in the first place.

There is a huge amount of responsibility placed on us as members of the LDS church.  We're not just expected to adhere to an impossible set of stringent commandments, but we're also expected to be responsible for other people's salvation.  The missionary effort is literally about saving souls—if you love God's children, which you should, you need to be inviting them to come unto Christ.  It's part of the mission of the church to spread the gospel.  If we don't do our visiting teaching (or ministering, I suppose), we're committing sins of omission by not working hard enough to perfect the saints.  And if we're not attending the temple regularly, we're not doing our part to redeem the dead.  And, as a mother, my sister now feels responsible for the tenuous eternal fates of her three boys, whom she's raising in a world that is increasingly at odds with what she believes is right and moral.  Raising kids is expensive, and so is home ownership.  She and her husband are commanded to pay ten percent of their income to the church and the kinds of stress it would cause if tithing were to stretch their budget too thin....

Of course she feels overwhelmed.  And that's by design.  The apostles encourage this.

In April 2014's General Conference, David A. Bednar talked about the burdens and responsibilities that we bear and used the metaphor of a truck stuck in the snow.  The tires wouldn't grip until the driver piled wood in the bed of the truck to add weight.  "It was the load of wood that provided the traction necessary for him to get out of the snow, to get back on the road, and to move forward," Bednar said.  Moral of the story—more burdens are good.  Take on more than you think you can handle and it'll be better that way.

In April 2017's General Conference, Henry B. Eyring told the Priesthood that "it’s natural to feel some inadequacy when we consider what the Lord has called us to do."  Moments later, he concluded, "So if you feel a little overwhelmed, take that as a good sign. It indicates that you can sense the magnitude of the trust God has placed in you."  Moral of the story—your responsibilities are insane.  Feeling overwhelmed is actually a good thing, so just accept it.

The metaphor of the Jaredite journey may be, on its surface, useful.  But it's not true.  And it's only useful because other untrue things have made its uses necessary.  Life can be overwhelming.  But no person should have to remain in a constant state of feeling inadequate and overwhelmed.  No benevolent god or compassionate religious organization should cultivate and encourage that kind of culture.  What we all need are foundations in groups and institutions that will not lie to us or manipulate us.  What we all need are moments of peace in between the noise of natural responsibilities.  What we all need are things that are both true and useful.

Take that, Boyd.


  1. Wishing your sister the best as she navigates the choppy of waters of modern Mormon mothering. There's a lot blowing her backwards, but she does't even know it.

    1. Haha, thanks. You're not wrong about that!