12 January 2014

I don't think this was directed at me, but I will respond (In re No. 4)

Good evening,

My plan tonight was to have continued with my series of responses.  However, in looking at Matthew Darks' blog earlier today, and in particular the latest post (10 January 2014), I will momentarily set that aside, but I will come back to it.  In the meantime, I wanted to respond to a few items that he had.  As the title of this post indicates, I don't think his remarks were directed at me.  In fact, his latest responses to my own blog posts, I thought, were quite conciliatory.  Still, I thought some things were needful to address, as it relates to my church, even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   

I wanted to start off with the following--
I accepted the invitation to the church and the entire process was rushed and pressure filled.  [...]  The process is designed at its very core to pressure new ‘investigators’ into accepting the faith quickly; I was asked to make a decision about baptism on the very first discussion with the missionaries.
I've been a member of the Church for over 20 years, and in that time, I (and later my wife) have worked with a large number of missionaries.  Much of the time, it's been to provide them with meals or take them to teaching appointments.  Less frequently, it's to assist with the lesson itself.  Currently, I do so as a first assistant inside the High Priests' group, but I have served in other capacities in the past.  Additionally, my wife served a full-time mission.  

Now I say these things, because I would suppose every person's experience is different, and I know each missionary is different.  I would only respectfully point out that Matthew's experience is not consistent with my own.  For even before I was baptized, I investigated the Church over the course of a number of months.  In fact, the total process was in excess of an entire year.  I am perfectly satisfied that in my case, it was not one that I rushed into; more importantly, it was not something anyone else rushed me into.  There were a number of reasons why I did not rush into the decision, but one of them was that I knew that this one decision would surely influence many others over my life, even over generations.  It was not something I was going to take casually or lightly.  This is not to say that there was not tension at times, but the tension was not from people pushing me towards baptism, but rather, it was from other factors.  Would my parents respect my decision, for instance?  (The answer is that ultimately, they did.) 

Still, the question is, how do the missionaries operate?  There is a manual that is written, not only for the missionaries, but for the members who work with them; in fact, it's directed to the entire Church.  I'll go ahead and link to it, since it's publicly available.  Called "Preach my Gospel," it not only includes an overview regarding the basic or core doctrines of the Church, but it gives instruction regarding the interaction between missionaries and non-members.  (NOTE: mormon.org also provides an overview of core doctrines, but in that instance, it is aimed at a general audience.)  Now the manual makes a number of points, but I submit one of these was actually not to rush someone towards baptism if (s)he was not ready.  To the contrary, the instruction is--
If you feel that the person you are teaching needs additional preparation, do not schedule an interview until the investigator meets the standards.
This is not to say that missionaries are not to encourage commitments; in fact, there is an entire section that talks about that (and also gives the reason why commitments are important).  But one of the core doctrines of our faith is that we have the ability to make our own decisions, and to do so freely and voluntarily, a term commonly referred to as "agency."  Similarly, the missionary interactions are not at all designed to take away a person's ability to make an informed and entirely consensual decisions.  As I have read in the manual, even the baptismal interview is designed to make sure the individual understands and accepts the covenants he is about to make, up to and including a willingness to take upon himself (or herself) Christ's name.  The instructions, in other words, are designed to prevent the very thing Matthew says happened in his case.

I have just two other thoughts at the moment and then I will close.  The first relates to something Matthew said--
I understand that the Mormons claim the use of the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon but in my experience it is not considered an equal and is not equally quoted or referenced in the church. 
Again, my experience would be different in a number of respects.  I was actually the Gospel Doctrine instructor for my ward until just a few months ago when I received my present calling.  This year, the entire focus is on the Bible and in particular, the Old Testament (student manual, teacher manual).  Next year, we should still be in the Bible, except that the focus shifts toward the New Testament.  Of course we respect the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price as each products of the Restoration and therefore important to us, but I find that the Bible continues to receive a great deal of respect and reverence.  If it were not so, we wouldn't be spending two entire years speaking mainly about the Bible in Gospel Doctrine class as part of the larger four-year cycle.

The second thought relates to the same source--
The very worst attitude that I encounter and that gets the worst response out of me is that of the person who acts like a child in their reasoning and argumentation. Fingers in the ears, saying ‘LA LA LA LA’, not actually being part of an adult, reasoned argument. ‘I’ll never change my position, NEVER’ is one of the worst claims I’ve encountered. I know that when someone says that, they have lost more than just the current argument. They have lost my respect.
Hmmm, this is interesting.  Perhaps that remark was aimed directly at me, after all (even though I was speaking to a general audience at the time, and not to Matthew in particular).  Specifically, in my original post, I said,
Now if I am outspoken as a Mormon, and someone else is as outspoken as an atheist as what I've been reading of late, I will say that with all due respect, we're not going to be able to persuade each other.  I can try, of course; but I can also assure you that my own views will not change, except within the realm of my own spiritual growth, which I have every intention of preserving.
If that was what hit his "hot button," then I can see how he responded as he originally did; however, the entire sentence needs to be read, not just the words "my own views will not change."  The italicized section, as modified by the word "except," is just as important and places the phrase into its proper context.  

Here's the best way I can explain the above.  For over the last twenty years, I have been genuinely happy with the spiritual path I have chosen.  I say this, not because I invested a substantial amount of time or energy into it--even though of a truth, I have.  Rather, I say this from my own experiences in studying and pondering the scriptures, through prayer, and even in the course of sacred experiences.  Prior to that time, I was not on the same path, I was on another.  And to be perfectly honest, the other path was comparatively empty in terms of inherent worth or meaning.  It is certainly not the experience I would desire others to have.  So when the writer gives the invitation "...let your imagination wander. Let it think about the possibility that there is no god," he has to understand that I already did this, and that I was quite unsatisfied with the result.

And having done the above in the past, and having reflected upon it now, why would it be necessary for me to keep plowing the same ground?  Why would I purposefully trade in something that I know to be of great worth for something that is considerably less?  If that comes across as "fingers in the ears/LA LA LA LA," that is unfortunate, but in my mind it is within the same class of reasoning as not touching a hot stove that I touched previously as a toddler.  In fact, it's inside the same class of reasoning as the things a person would do to preserve a marriage.  If someone loves his wife, then why should he let his mind wander towards infidelity, even hypothetically...even for any length of time at all?

At the end of the day, open-mindedness is reasonable if the underlying objective is to seek the truth.  Also, mutual respect allows me to consider the workings of other faiths but to agree to disagree where appropriate. However, mutual respect should not require nor direct that I continuously reconsider things I have found for myself to be true already, whether the subject matter is God, or anyone or anything else.

It's now very late, and I want to be alert for the Sabbath.  So I will have to leave these thoughts as they are.  --Sandy

NOTE: This was edited for typos and minor problems with phrasing following initial publication.

4 comments:

Matthew Darks said...

First and very foremost, my post wasn't directed at you. It was an unfortunate coincidence as it had been written and scheduled to be posted for weeks; I had nearly forgotten about it. You have directed a significant portion of this post to that end but it's all good conversation.

I agree that not every experience will be the same but in my making connections and sharing stories with other disaffected members it seems mine was not a one off event. I will also acknowledge that yours was likely not one either, I am sure many people 'investigate' the church in their own way but since my apostasy much much more pieces of information have come up that someone who truly investigated before joining should have noticed or encountered. I'm not saying you didn't take a year to become a member of record but I would question what your investigation entailed.

I am sure you know of some of the criticisms that face the church and have your own answers to most but I wonder if you have read the "A Letter to a CES Director". http://cesletter.com/

This letter details many (not all) of the problems that face the church. The part in my post about someone putting their 'fingers in their ears, saying la la la' is directed at a few people that I have attempted to show why so many people are leaving the church these days. Not at you, again it was just a coincidence that it came out at the same time.

In your post, you emphasize the final part of the sentence "... except within the realm of my own spiritual growth, which I have every intention of preserving," and claim that this puts the sentence "into its proper context." I must say that this 'context' doesn't change the meaning of the sentence very well. Essentially, in my mind it went from 'I'll never change my views' to 'I'll never change my views unless it makes me believe more'.

I have seen the Preach My Gospel manual though I have never read it in depth, and I would submit to you that the factors that I felt as pressure were the unwritten parts. A bold statement, I will admit, but that opinion has been formulated from my experience and listening to the stories of other ex-members, ex-missionaries, and even from the movie Best Two Years. The missionaries in the movie are stressed by their leaders to get people to make commitments and record them on their log daily. It is not unreasonable to think that the pressure placed on the missionaries would pass along to pressure on investigators, but I admit that it will not and does not happen in every, or likely the majority, of cases.

Matthew Darks said...

To the points about the Bible I must edit my remarks to say that 'Historically it was not equally quoted or referenced in the Church.' The church has been through a changning process in the last few years/decades as a result of the outpouring of criticism and the loss of membership worldwide. I equate the Bible study classes with the author-less articles/letters that have been published by the church in response to specific points of criticism. I must say that the change is not a bad thing and will likely improve the view of the Church to those who claim they are not Christian. In addition to that the letters and the classes will bring attention to those points of criticism to the members who had never been aware of them before; the result of which only time will tell.

If a man/woman were in a marriage that wasn't fulfilling his/her mind may wander to imagine a better circumstance. The person may not see the relationship as flawed but that doesn't mean that it isn't. Men/women across the world are in abusive relationships where they rationalize the abuse as love and can't see the error until taken out of the situation and looking in. You can see that this example is extreme but it is valid. Those people love each other but by your argument why would that person let their mind wander "even hypothetically, even for any length of time at all?"

I understand you may have thought on a world with no god and not liked the result but again that post wasn't directed to you personally. Also, mutual respect can be had for a person while not held for a belief system. Some of the apostates will have left the church because of a bad experience but the majority have found the basis for the belief to be flawed. Contrary evidence to many claims of the church removes the foundation for the belief and myself and many others are simply attempting to show others what has been shown to us. Perhaps we, especially I, have gone about it in a too forward and frank approach but the facts are there and need to be seen. I of course have no way to know what you have seen or not and if it's new to me then I would assume it's new to most people. On a site I frequent, Reddit.com, there is continually people being outraged at 'reposts' but to the person who posted it and at least a few people who see it, it is not. Should we then stop posting new items in fear of a 'repost'? NO!

Have a great time at church, I will be at work (please don't stone me! just kidding)

Matthew Darks said...

I'm sure you remember my comments about the use of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, a quote of yours is below.

"This year, the entire focus is on the Bible and in particular, the Old Testament."

This is the year of the Old Testament study and amazingly I've been following along with the manual. I would like to know if since we had the above conversation you have thought about it any more? We are four lessons in to this year's study and I think my point is being validated more than I planned it to be. Below is a break down of the suggested readings for the individual lessons.

Lesson 1-Moses 1:1-39


Lesson 2-Abraham 3:11-12, 22-28; Moses 4:1-4; D&C 138
-Additional Reading: Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:7-9; Alma 13:3-5; Abraham 3; D&C 29:36-39


Lesson 3-Moses 1:27-42, 2:1-31, 3:1-25, 6:63; Abraham 3:24-25; 1 Nephi 17:36; Alma 30:44
-Additional Reading: Abraham 4-5; Genesis 1-2


Lesson 4-Moses 4; 5:1-15; 6:48-62; 2 Nephi 2:22-23; 9:6; Genesis 3:16-23
-Additional Reading: Genesis 2-3, 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; 2 Nephi 2:5-30, 9:3-10; Helaman 14:15-18; D&C 19:15-19, 29:34-44; AoF 1:2; Bible Dictionary “Fall of Adam”

I hope you can notice what I am getting to even if you don't think it matters.

Approximately (my daughter is around so my math may be off a bit but it is close) 425 verses that we're asked to read only 59 are actually from the Old Testament. In fact only 7 are part of the lesson, the other 52 are only suggested after the lesson. The remaining 366 or so verses are from the New Testament, Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price.

I have not done any of the math but I have looked ahead to the next two lessons and they follow in the same fashion. Even if you don't think this matters much I hope you can agree that this is fairly clear to not be 'entirely focused' on the Bible and in particular the Old Testament.

Sander J. Rabinowitz said...

Sincere apologies for the delay, but I haven't had very much computer time this week. Perhaps I could have been better with my choice of words--I usually try to be precise--but, for instance, lesson #7 focuses primarily on Genesis (12, 15, 17), with portions of Abraham 1 and D&C 132. If I grab other lessons randomly and look mainly at the "Preparation" section of the teacher's manual, lesson #24 is mainly 2 Samuel and Psalm 51. Lesson #32 is mainly Job. Lesson #33 is Jonah and Micah. Lesson #38 is mainly Isaiah, but has readings from 3 Nephi, Matthew, and Alma as well.

I think from the above, it is still fair to say that the Old Testament would remain a primary focus when the manual is viewed as a whole. Your mention regarding the use of the other scriptures, though, raises a good point. Generally, when this happens, it is because the teachings from one scripture complements a teaching from another. Which was why the Pearl of Great Price was used as a companion to the first portion of Genesis, especially regarding the Creation. Another example of this would be in the cross-references that appear in the bottom margins of the scriptures.

Andrea's calling me away, so I'll close for the moment, and hopefully more to follow. Thanks for pointing that out. --SJR