Wednesday, March 28, 2007

[H]arming your Children with the Gospel

Looking through some old book boxes, I came across the hated church-books box. While I am satisfied to see this load of propaganda de fide no longer consuming valuable space on our shelves, I still find it an obnoxious imposition that they take up a cheap cardboard box and a couple of cubic feet in the garage.

Nevertheless, I picked one up on top, intrigued by the title: Arming your Children with the Gospel: Creating Opportunities for Spiritual Experiences by a presumably husband-and-wife team of "organizational consultants" -- Wayne Boss, a professor of business management, and Leslee Boss, who "holds a Ph.D. . . . and has been on the nursing faculties of several universities." [1] Of course, "[t]he Bosses are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have served in numerous church leadership positions." So, figuring this surely has some juicy bits of sheer manipulation, I began paging through it and did not take long to run across a fascinating, marvelously-manipulative passage in a chapter ominously entitled "FOLLOW THE BRETHREN." I'll produce it here, footnoted with my comments and translations.

Criticism of Church leaders damages the faith and spiritual development of children. [2] The testimonies of most children are not well grounded in Church doctrine, and many children do not have sufficient wisdom and experience to differentiate between Church doctrine and the behavior of Church leaders. [3] Thus, when parents ridicule, condemn, or find fault with leaders, it can be, in their children's eyes, the equivalent of criticizing Church doctrine or the Church itself. And most children's fragile testimonies cannot withstand such an attack without suffering permanent damage. [4]

In citing research on the subject [5], Gene Dalton observed, "The Mormon parents, who had apparently been reared in active homes themselves, constantly complained and criticized Church authorities, but they never left the Church nor abandoned its teachings as guides in their lives. They were too much a product of their own upbringing to do so. [6] But their children, who had heard the chafing and the criticisms at the dinner table all their lives, did leave -- to the partial dismay of their parents." [7]

Rearing children is such an important yet unpredictable challenge that, to be successful, most of us need all the help we can get. [8] We never know who will be called to teach or lead our children. [9] So to destroy the credibility of a future leader or teacher is of such serious consequence as to hardly go unnoticed by the Almighty in the eternal scheme of things. [10] Under such conditions, the law of the harvest often comes into play: "Whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap." (D&C 6:33).
Several years ago, a counselor in a Young Women's Presidency had a serious conflict with the Scoutmaster over the scheduling of some church facilities. [11] Although the Scouts had previously scheduled the building, the counselor insisted that the activity for all the girls in the ward took priority. The Scoutmaster disagreed and refused to change the schedule. An appeal to the bishopric resulted in a decision in favor of the Scoutmaster. [12]

The woman [13] took the decision personally and singled out the Scoutmaster for being at fault. She shared her feelings with anyone who would listen. [14] Unfortunately, her most captive audience sat around her dinner table each evening; [sic] and for two years she consistently pointed out the man's shortcomings to her four teenage children. [15]

Two-and-one-half years after the incident, the Scoutmaster was called to serve as the bishop. [16] At about the same time, the woman began having trouble with her oldest daughter. When the problems became quite serious, this woman [17], now repentant, went to her bishop for assistance. However, when he sat down with the daughter, she refused to even listen -- he had absolutely no credibility with the girl. [18] The continuous diet of criticism had rendered him powerless. [19]
Regardless of the seriousness of our problems with others or the depth of our feelings about those problems, it is in our and our children's best interests to avoid criticism. [20]
. . .

[1] I find it fascinating that Mormons have accepted, lock-stock-and-barrel, the presumption of business leaders in teaching them how to run their families, corporate-style. Consider this book along with one of the vaunted and pre-eminent Mormon authors on family and life: Steven Covey, who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Successful... series, one of which, of course, is an adaptation called The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Families. (LB and I actually read the latter during our TBM phase. This nauseates me.) His collaborator and wife, we are told, holds "a Ph.D." and thus is some sort of smarty pants, we assure you.

[2] "Spiritual development"? Translation: ability to swallow massive incongruities, egregious hypocrisies and outright contradictions without letting their logical implications register in the psyche; reverential regard for the infallibility of religious authority despite its daily production of evidence to the contrary; incapacity for critical thought of any form.

[3] Right. Because they have been emotionally manipulated, made fearful of thinking for themselves, and fed a steady diet of guilt- and obedience-drugged milk in preparation for a later lifetime of gospel "meat." Brainwashing of children includes emotional-button-pushing stuff -- singing how they love to obey, mindlessly reciting the programmed words that will later constitute the "testimony" they bleat to people later in life, playing follow-the-leader games, and happy-joy stuff, not mere recitations of dry doctrine. Surely they won't be able to learn off-the-bat that you do as church leaders say, not as they do, and give the church leadership room for hypocrisy and backpedaling where they change their position.

[4] Translation: Fear! Be careful not to EVER let your children come into contact with critical thought or the idea that they can consider sacred truths using the hated light of reason. Such "permanent damage" is a dreadful contamination of their desensitization to any form of real moral agency or application of logic to important life events. Obedience, obedience, obedience. Why don't you talk about those pretty Book of Mormon action figures instead? You can recreate the slaying of Laban! "I will go and do..."

[5] Research indeed. I'd be curious to see what constitutes faith-promoting research.

[6] It is interesting and telling that he makes a deterministic argument here, rather than sticking to the free-agency line of argument. If people stick to whatever religion in which they're indoctrinated in their youth, then the issue is brainwashing of children to the point of inability to leave the cult, not the bringing about of free moral agents to an enlightened decision. I am consistently amazed at how quickly religionists use deterministic reasoning when it suits their fancy, then switch back to free-agency arguments when it is time to condemn others or tout the allegedly non-coercive nature of their faith and their deity.

[7] So, children must be steadfastly isolated from open conflict or talking of negative subject matter to ensure their inability to deal with it realistically later. Scrutiny of church doctrine that is not admiring and "reverent" will destroy your children.

[8] You can't do it alone; you need us. Give us your children, let us take care of it. After all, given the burden we place on you in addition to your childrearing responsibilities, you'll drown without taking every opportunity you can to let us indoctrinate your children.

Incidentally, they are correct to an important extent; solitary nuclear childraising is a poor substitute for the raising of children in a supportive community. The only problem is that the church community comes with strings attached, which slowly attach to one's extremities until one is little more than a marionette.

[9] Read: any "potential church leader" (i.e. male, but also to some extent females) must be immune from the application of critical thought.

[10] Ah, the ominously-understated divine threat. The authors are not pulling punches. "Destroy the credibility of" (i.e. criticize or complain of) a potential "future leader" in a divinely-ordained patriarchal order and you will be divinely punished. It's that important that you remain silent and obey.

[11] Here we have the beginnings of a classic patriarchal cautionary tale. Woman versus man. Certainly this won't take the predictable route, will it? This isn't going to be a "women keep your mouth shut" story, is it?

[12] Oh, my! Here we have a dutiful male priesthood-holder at the head of "the Scouts" who have scheduled the building, and an unreasonable, uppity woman who feels the need to challenge the natural order of things. Getting juicy.

[13] "The woman"! I love it! I learned how to do this kind of thing in Trial Advocacy class. Selective use of language, dehumanizing the other party with terse labels while upholding the dignity of your client. Let's see how the authors refer to the man.

[14] This "taking the decision personally" is a big favorite of the church. Everyone who has a problem with anything in the church has obviously let themselves be "offended" and has "taken personally" some sort of neutral, reasonable event. So, here we have "the woman" who took a predictable scheduling decision and began murmuring. We priesthood holders can wink at each other here with a knowing smile -- such children; don't they ever shut up?

[15] "Captive audience" -- implying that no one reasonable would bother to listen to such claptrap, but the uppity woman abused her power with her family to force them to listen to her talk about his every "shortcoming." The reader is led to understand here that she has broadened her very personal, bitter criticism of the poor man.

Also, we have "the man" used -- perhaps both will be referred to in neutral form, here? Of course, your average hearer will hear in mind the intonation of your average rhetorician. There is a subtle but distinct difference between "the woman" who is a wrongdoer and "the man" who is done wrong. ("Leave the man alone!") This difference is understood and clear here.

[16] As we see, "the Scoutmaster" is a worthy, upstanding male, of course, and his leadership time has come due. But what effect will that murmuring woman have?

[17] "This woman," not "the former Young Women's President"? Are we given no further information about her? No current calling? She remains faceless and a postergirl for shameful behavior. We may presume she holds no calling and is performing poorly in all capacities. Damned complainer.

[18] The standard story twist given by those who hold power to the powerless. You see? You complain about our power and resist us, but some day you'll be sorry and need us, and you'll come crawling back. And then your very complaining will be your undoing. I will be powerless to help you, though I will of course be the magnanimous one. And thus it comes to pass that she does so with "the bishop."

[19] Interesting wording. "The continuous diet of criticism" had made him "powerless." Us poor men, always the victim of unfaithful murmuring of women. Always the underdog, always powerless before sharp-tongued, insubordinate shrews.

[20] Translation: Keep your fucking mouth shut. Speak no evil. As was written in enormous letters on the wall of an old mid-century asylum I once toured, "Keep your voice low and be sweet."