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."


Cele said...

Don't people just suffer massive migraines from all this? Some of the passages are so convoluted and conflicted that they implode upon themselves.


Sara Sue said...

Dear Gluby,

I'm new to your site ... well, sort of. I've spent the better part of the morning reading your archive. I like to start from the beginning when I become a regular at someone's site.

That being said, I'd like to quote a wise, kind, deep thinking person;

"Why do I want to blog? Sheer self-indulgence, maybe. I remember a quote from someone that went along the lines of, how can I know what I think about it unless I write about it? I want to know what I think -- to collect and refine my thoughts. Mostly I'll write about my takes on the world, with a focus on critical social analysis and "recovery from Mormonism.""

That's from your very first post here. You sum it up so perfectly for so many of us there. Your writing is enthralling. I suspect that is why you've been attacked recently. You have a gift, my new-found cyber pal, one that people with small minds feel the need to attack.

Don't be discouraged, doing the right thing is never easy, it's hard enough just being human.

I hope you, your wife, and your children will find a way to peace. Know that there is great power in the good thoughts being expressed here for all of you.

OK, that's the longest comment I've ever left, sorry. I'll shut up now.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

I like this writing, Gluby. You've got a gift with words, indeed you do. Love it.

C.L. Hanson said...

Wow, the whole "Uppity woman vs. rightful patriarchal authority" aspect is disturbing.

What I find most interesting though is the following message:

"Parents, don't supplement the church's teachings with your own opinions. Even if you mean it as 'The church is absolutely right but I have this minor quibble...' kids often place more weight on what their parents say than on the words of church authorities. So when they hear you pointing out errors, they get crazy ideas like thinking that they're allowed to form their own opinions of what church leaders say."

And on that count, they're right. I can completely relate to the daughter in this story. I read this and think "Mom, you know this guy isn't qualified to be giving advice -- you don't trust his judgement yourself. Why are you asking me to listen to him? What has the gospel done to you to make you behave this way?" And then start questioning...

JulieAnn said...

This is a fantastic post. The Church has families in a vise--it's as though they hold them hostage:

"Just smile up at the nice camera on the ceiling and nod; we'll meet in the bathroom to talk about how I really feel about xyz doctrine!"

"But dad, they put a camera in there, too!"


It's Orwellian and creepy.

Hellmut said...

Great analysis, Gluby. It will not surprise you that there has been a campaign to remove the term free agency from the Mormon vocabulary.

Free agency used to be a staple but during the last ten years, you will have a hard time to find it in the Ensign.

Mormon pedagogy is so impoverished. Anyone who will follow the Bosses' advice will raise stunted children.

Randy said...

Reminds me of the Paul H. Dunn affair and Dallin Oaks's admonitions to avoid criticism of church leaders, even if that criticism happens to be true. I suppose it's more important to keep up appearances than to, say, expose a Stake President who is embezzling funds from his employer. IIRC, the desire to maintain credibility was one factor in David McKay's decision not to openly denounce McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine." I suppose a GA could stand at the podium and fart into the microphone and nobody could say anything about it.

Gluby said...

Sorry for the belated answers!

It's maddening, isn't it? Aaargh indeed! It's criminal, really, and I'd defend a murderer ten times over before I'd defend one of the people behind this kind of manipulation.

Sara Sue,
I don't quite know how to answer such a kind and appreciative thing said. Thank you! I look forward to reading more of you as well. And don't worry, I always love long comments.

S&M Lisa,
As always, thanks. ;)

Totally, isn't it? It is *so* incredibly atrocious, and yet so predictable, that they choose this particular anecdote to sum up their point. It's the undercurrent running through Every, Damn, Lesson, Taught.

So, yep, the perverse thing is that they *are* right. You cannot show your kids that critical thought is okay, or they will, um, do it themselves. And then, oh, no! The whole house of cards might come tumbling down from that simple little breeze.

Thanks! Yes, families in Mormonism are definitely trapped in a prison arguably more real and effective than a physical one. And it is definitely Orwellian. In the end, the central message of 1984 was the inability to think outside the orthodoxy imposed throughout life and enforced via constant monitoring and threat of punishment of some kind. The result is self-censorship writ large -- the practice of learning to erase and ignore certain patterns of your own thought, performed so consistently and regularly as to become second nature.

Really? That's fascinating. I know in my readings and church attendance during my Mormon years they *loved* to talk up and down about "free agency" in that limited and threatening way that they do. I think it would be at least a slight bit more honest to stop using the damned phrase.

(And besides, I think "free agency" is a myth anyway.)

Ha! I think you're right, but I'd love to see it and hear the pindrop silence in the tabernacle/meetinghall/whatever after the blessed flatulence has departed the holy ass.

Ahem. Pardon me.

Speaking of Paul H. Dunn, it's worth an entire 'nother blog post to go into his collateral effects on Mormons. To put it briefly, his effect on LB was to make her always retain 5% doubt in EVERYTHING, even things backed by incontrovertible evidence. Thus, it made it almost impossible for her to move on the massive volumes of evidence of the church's deceit and hypocrisy because of what I've dubbed "the Paul H. Dunn factor." In other words, it made it HARDER for her to leave the church! Fascinating and disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Gluby, it appears that even though you have left the LDS Church, you really haven't. It still takes up way too much of your time and thoughts. It's too bad you haven’t’ gotten over it. I have a suggestion: get rid of your books!! Stop entrenching yourself in things that bother you, and get involved in pursuits that make you happy. Your preoccupation with Mormon's must be exhausting!

Also, to get over your anger, you may need a good psychologist to talk to so you can move on. Honestly…that may be a huge help.

Gluby said...

Dear Courageous Anonymous Poster,

Oh no! You dropped the P bomb on me! You know, it's really a tired old trick to recommend to people with whom you disagree that they get psychiatric counseling.

My response to that bit of self-indulgent, passive-aggressive inanity:

No, you.

Setting aside the fact that I haven't even touched my blog for, what, over two years? -- let's just turn this around.

"Anonymous," it appears that even though you have become comfortable with your membership in the notorious Mormon church, you really haven't. It still takes up way too much of your time trolling through ex-members blogs and taking the time to post petty snubs. It's too bad you haven't gotten over people who leave it.

I have a suggestion: get rid of your computer and all non-Mormon books!! Stop entrenching yourself in things that bother you, and get involved with things that make you happy. Your preoccupation with ex-Mormons must be exhausting!

Also, to get over your strange hostility to people who have left the church, you may need a good (here comes the P-bomb) psychiatrist to talk to so you can move on and leave them be.

Honestly... that may be a huge help.


In a dashing display of my own return honesty, I can honestly say that you have completely and utterly failed to come off as either honest or sincere. Share your "honestly" veiled hostility with someone else.