Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ned's Laws of Religious Inertia

I seem to have ticked off a lot of people with my last post, so let me clarify a couple things.

I believe in religious inertia. This is not a scientific theory, just one I've cobbled together based on my observations. There are people who defy the laws of religious inertia; I am simply trying to explain the behavior of the majority of people.

Ned's Laws of Religious Inertia

1. Most people do not change religions during their lifetime.

2. Most people are not interested in changing their religion.

3. It often takes a shock to the system or a fundamental change (e.g. marriage to a spouse of a different religion) to break someone out of their religious orbit.

4. Strong social forces like families and friends work to keep people in their existing religious orbits.

I don't think these laws are very controversial. Obviously there are lots of exceptions, but I think that this is generally how the world works.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sympathy for Jehovah's Witnesses

As I was preparing to leave my house on Saturday, I was approached in my driveway by two Jehovah's Witnesses. They were both middle-aged women, wearing coats and holding armfuls of Wake Up! magazines. It was an unseasonably warm day for January but there was still a chill in the air, and I immediately felt bad for them. Here they were, wasting half of their weekend, going door to door in a strange neighborhood.

One was older, with white hair and she did all the talking. I tried to be as friendly as possible.

JW: Have you ever seen our magazine before?
Ned: Sure, I've seen a lot of them, but I'm not really interested today.
JW: Would you like to have a magazine?

I would have accepted but I suspected that they might come back if I took a magazine, kind of how as a missionary we would always return to visit the people who accepted a Book of Mormon from us.

Ned: No, thanks. But thank you very much.
JW: How about just this pamphlet?
Ned: Sure. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.
JW: You too. Goodbye.

They went across the street to knock on my neighbor's door and I left, with a JW pamphlet on the floor of my car. It's still there.

This incident depressed me for several reasons. JWs depress me more than Mormon missionaries. I think both groups are probably equally futile or equally effective, depending on your point of view. Both groups recruit those without social networks and plug them into a ready-made community, which can be a very positive thing, especially for those on the fringes of society. However, in the long run, both groups are having only incremental success in spreading their message.

The reason JWs depress me more is because (and correct me if I'm wrong here) every member has to go out and knock on doors. Mormons squeeze all the proselyting into a two-year rite of passage. You're young, away from people you know in real life, and you have a definite end in sight. JWs that proselyte are working in their own towns, while holding down their regular jobs, and probably have to do this for as long as they are JWs.

I didn't want these older ladies to be walking around in the cold. I wanted them to be sipping hot chocolate, enjoying the weekend before they had to go back to work on Monday. As missionaries, we used to rationalize our failures in tracting, saying we were planting seeds. Being on the other side now, I realize that there are no seeds, just crumpled, unread literature.

I wanted to shout, "Stop wasting your life, and start enjoying it!" They wouldn't have listened. Missionary Ned wouldn't have listened to this advice either. We all have to find our own path to happiness. For all I know, their path includes being cold on Saturdays.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Praise to the man

I'll admit that I still hold a couple of grudges against my parents for the way they raised me. I think they made some spectacular blunders, possibly scarring me for life.

One quick example, brought to mind by the recent BCC discussion of evil spirits and possession, happened when I was just 8 or 9. I was watching some television show by myself (it was a weekly show like The Twilight Zone, that had a different scary story each week) which featured a young boy being attacked by his grandmother, who was a witch. It scared the daylights out of me, and I went to my parents to comfort me (and possibly let me sleep in their bed). I remember very clearly that my father said to me, "You know, the scary thing about these stories is that there actually are witches and demons out there." That's just wrong on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin.

That, obviously, is just the tip of the iceberg of my parental complaints. I have a ton more. However, as I was reading Susan M's post about how she met her husband at a Cure concert, I couldn't help remembering my first concert ever.

I was fifteen and had just gotten into the Cure. They were coming to a nearby town (located about an hour away) and I really wanted to go. I had never been to a concert before. Obviously, I couldn't drive there, so the only solution was for my Dad to drive me. My older sister came along too, even though her musical taste ran more towards Kip Winger and Great White. My Dad dropped us off at the concert and drove to a deserted parking lot where he read the scriptures under the streetlights for a couple hours until it was time to pick up my sister and me from the concert.

Somehow, the image of him straining to read his giant quad in some strange, empty parking lot at night, just so I could go to a concert, chokes me up. It's a little early for Father's Day, but let me just say, thanks Dad. You're alright.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Does Polygamous Ancestry Help You Believe?

Like most Americans with no discernible ethnicity, I hunger after any knowledge of my ancestors. I think we envy those who can say, "I'm Italian" or "My grandparents came over from Slovakia." Oh, to have such interesting forebears!

My family line on my mother's side is murky. So murky that all I know is that my mother's maiden name might be from Wales. Otherwise, that side of the family tree is just a melange of WASPy, white-bread names. On the other hand, my grandmother on my father's side supposedly did extensive genealogical research (though I've never seen it). From this alleged research, I know that my great-great-great...(I forget how many greats)...grandfather came over to America from Scotland and that is where my surname comes from.

On the basis of this slender belief, I buy books like How the Scots Invented the Modern World; I daydreamedly browse through the inevitable picture books of the Scottish countryside in Barnes and Noble (why are there always so many picture books of Scotland, by the way?); and I even own a tie the color of my surname's tartan.

The odds that I am even one-sixteenth or one-thirty-second Scottish are not very good, yet still I am fascinated by my possible ancestors. I want to know more about them and understand their lives. There's a good chance I am at least an eighth or even a quarter German. For some reason, my German ancestry doesn't have quite the same romantic pull as the Scottish, but I still want to know where my German forebears came from and when and why they emigrated.

I think this is highly relevant to many discussions of Mormonism. My mother is a convert and my father converted with his family when he was very young. My Mormon ancestry dates all the way back to the 1950's. That's it. I have little empathy for or understanding of the strange pioneer families with four or five wives. I simply can't relate: those aren't my people. My people were dirt farmers or city dwellers during this era. They weren't trekking across the country for what might seem to me to be a suspect reason. This might explain why, when I went on Pioneer Trek as young man, all I got was blistered and malnourished, instead of inspired.

I know from various discussions that several members of the bloggernacle are descendents of pioneers and polygamists. I think I understand how they can reconcile their feelings towards early Mormons and polygamy while I find the practice extremely off-putting and creepy. For them, it's their tartan kilt. They wouldn't be here without it. It's hard to condemn something that would erase your very existence.

I also can't help but wonder if my lack of Mormon roots makes it easier for me to abandon my faith. It's not like I'm letting down five generations of Flanders; would I feel the same way if one of my ancestors had been killed by a mob?

I don't honestly know how I'd feel about polygamists if I had polygamous ancestry, but I'd probably be less critical. Let's be honest: even though I'm not in the same pickle as Australians (sorry, Aussies!), my ancestors were likely the dregs of European society. If they weren't, they never would have come to America. Nevertheless, I romanticize their lives and their legacy, even though they were probably drunks, tramps, and thieves. Never mind that, I'm late for my bagpipe lesson!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

What next? Coming to terms with disbelief

Roasted Tomatoes has been hosting a great series at LDSLF entitled "What next?"

RT has solicited essays from various people describing their crises of faith and how they dealt with the aftermath. He has been kind enough to post my essay here. (D-Train has posted a thoughtful response to my essay here.)

Be sure to also check out RT's and Ann's installments in the series. I am looking forward to future posts, including Hellmut's (which I have already had a sneak peak at).

Kudos to RT for providing space for a discussion that we rarely have, even in the bloggernacle.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Laughing while crying: a Malaysian Setting for the BoM

I don't know whether to laugh or cry, so I will do them simultaneously.

I happened to be reading a comment by Dan Vogel over at Sunstone Blog, when I found a link to this March 2004 Sunstone article (pdf file) proposing a possible Malaysian-Thai setting for the Book of Mormon. I think the article is fascinating, if only as an experiment in how much "evidence" one can find for just about any theory about the Book of Mormon. (It must be particularly discouraging to apologists that just as much evidence supporting the Book of Mormon can be found in Southeast Asia as in the ancient Americas.)

The author, Dr. Ralph Olsen, seems quite sincere about his theory and has even assembled a 301-page manuscript (pdf file) outlining his arguments. I have only skimmed through the 300 pages, but I believe his point is that if the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah isn't the same as the New York State Hill Cumorah, as currently argued by FARMS, then why couldn't the original have been in Asia instead of Central America? (I can think of plenty reasons, but still.)

I believe that this kind of bizarre theorizing is the logical result of the Limited Geography school of thought. FARMS and the Limited Geography Theory have decided to throw out all of Joseph Smith's and his contemporaries' statements about the United States and the Western Hemisphere being the land of the Nephites and Lamanites because it doesn't fit the archeological evidence. Well, if Joseph didn't know where the Book of Mormon happened, how come it couldn't have been in Asia? Or on the moon?

At some point, it seems to me like we are arguing over the true location of Rivendale and whether Frodo really could have reached it from Bag End in such a short amount of time. Fascinating for sure, but more than a little absurd.


I'm pretty sure I disagree vehemently with everything that No-Death-Before-the-Fall Gary has every said or thought, but his crack about playing General Authority poker on M* cracked me up. I think we need a card game called "Priesthood Authority." Stake Presidency cards are practically worthless, Scripture cards are powerful, but the Living Prophet card trumps all!

Oh wait, they already play this game every day over at M*.

Because I liked Gary's quip, I will refrain from giving him a Flintstone's-inspired nickname, even though he believes dinosaurs and humans co-existed.