Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Conference birthdays

Please allow me to kvetch for a moment about general conference scheduling.

For those with birthdays during the first weeks of April and October (and the last days of March and September), weekend birthdays are consistently wrecked by general conference wiping out the first weekend of those months.

Further, for women with birthdays during the last week of September, Saturday birthdays are sucked away by general relief society meetings—and this affects guys with birthdays then, too, ’cause it means that their wives or girlfriends are swiped out of their lives if their birthday happens to fall on a Saturday.

So i guess what i’m wondering is why we don’t mix it up a little—show a little love to those of us with birthdays in the 23 September to 7 October and 31 March to 7 April spans every few years by letting us celebrate without guilt.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On failing our children

Talking to my kids this evening, it occurred to me that Jeanne and i have done very, very badly by our children: We have taught them gospel principles, allowing them to reason things out at a reasonably deep level, and as a result we have doomed them to years of boredom in primary.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Again with the modesty thing

So i was going through old emails (dating back to 1999, which really is too long to keep stuff like that around), and i found this response of mine to someone else’s post in a long-running discussion of issues of modesty (in the usual Mormon sense). I reproduce it here even though it’s longish, and even though what it’s replying to isn’t an attitude unique to Mormons (we share it with lots of other groups). I’m curious what others think of my reasoning, though.

So, anyway, it started with something forwarded from a website apparently called “Religion Today”:

“Lurid and sexually provocative magazines at supermarket checkout counters are inappropriate, most Americans say. Seventy-three percent of 1,006 people questioned by pollster Wirthlin Worldwide said the covers of magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Redbook should be covered up.” The head of an organization called Morality in Media, Robert Peters, states: “…it is irresponsible to openly display at checkout counters, where children and vulnerable adolescents cannot help but see them, trashy magazine covers that so blatantly violate common standards of decency and morality,” Peters said.

My response:

I find this fascinating, myself, particularly since Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Redbook were singled out, all of which (usually) show women in to be honest not-terribly-revealing but certainly often enticing/​provocative (depending on your point of view) outfits. (Cosmo makes much use of push-up outfits in its cover photos, but swelling breasts are not in and of themselves revealing—if anything, they involve the creation of an illusion that hides rather than reveals.) What’s really interesting about this, though, is that magazines like GQ and Men’s Health, which often have men on their covers showing lots more skin than any of the women on the named magazines’ covers, were not mentioned. Is it only photos of fully dressed women that are “lurid and sexually provocative”?

For a moment, i’d like to reminisce on my own experience in Germany as a full-time missionary. Yes, magazine cover (and advertising, for that matter) shots of scantily-clad women (usually not men, interestingly, although there were some in my observation) showing more skin than would be allowed on the cover of Cosmo in the United States were quite common, but i have to admit that i don't necessarily see this as being related to any sort of “moral decay” in German culture—they simply showed more skin in their photographs than Unistatians tend to.

And this brings me to what troubles me about this whole discussion—there’s an underlying assumption that nobody’s questioning. That is, there’s a tacit ground rule people are using that having more skin visible in public places is necessarily a Bad Thing. Is it, though, or is this simply Unistatian (or American? Angloamerican? Euroamerican?) values being parrotted by the participants in the discussion? The assumption may well turn out to be correct, but never holding it up for questioning is, i feel, a disservice to the entire issue.

I mean, it’s quite valid to propose (full disclosure: this is actually my position) that the problem isn’t visible nudity, but the problem is rather the people who view that nudity. I suppose that i’ll be the minority here, but i’d argue that a fear of viewing human skin is at some level irrational, and we should be less worried about what’s visible to the world and more worried about how we react to it. (Arguably, we should also worry about how others react to it, but in my opinion we need to work on ourselves first.)

Maybe i’m alone on this, but my reaction to scantily-clad men or women on magazine covers tends to be something along the lines of “attractive person” or “good muscle definition” or “that outfit’s entirely the wrong color for that person, and i can’t believe that shot made it to the cover”. Is this a bad thing? Is it a bad thing to think that the problem isn’t that which is seen, but rather the reaction of that which sees?

I mean, really—the reaction of most Germans i knew, when i asked them about the level of nudity on magazine covers over there or the topless beaches or somesuch was something along the lines of “But it’s just a body!” And that, folks, is all it is—it’s just a body. Yeah, that’s an important thing and all, but it’s not like what you see in front of you is something eternal, even given the Mormon doctrine of a corporeal postmortality—it’s just a mortal body. So why the uproar over something as ignorable as that?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gender imbalances and eternity

Here’s a Mormon meme that i don’t think i hear as much as i used to, but that i still hear occasionally: that more women will inherit the Celestial Kingdom than men. (Every once in a while you even hear the dreaded “A general authority said in a stake conference that…” on this one.)

Anyway, i for one haven't been able to find any definitive word on this issue. Most defenses of the claim, though, go something like this:

  1. Every individual that receives exaltation must be sealed.
  2. Some men have been sealed to more than one wife. (Not just nineteenth-century polygynous sealings, either—for example, under current policy a widower can be sealed to his second wife while remaining sealed to his first wife, but this is not done for widows.)
  3. God keeps covenant promises. This means that those who keep their covenants cannot have a sealing broken.
  4. Therefore, if at least one man and two of his wives keep their covenants, there will be more women than men in the highest level of the celestial kingdom.

The problem, though, is that this is based on certain widely-held but uncertain assumptions. For example, assumption (1) seems reasonable, but we don't actually know that it’s true as stated. Those who die before the age of accountability, for example, are saved in the celestial kingdom automatically, sealing in the sense we think of it or no.

Assumption (2) presents an incomplete picture. Some women have been sealed to more than one husband, to begin with—under current practice, when doing sealings for the dead, if a woman was married more than once she is sealed to all of her husbands.

I’ll agree with (3), but that doesn’t lead directly to (4), even ignoring the problems with (1) and (2). Conclusion (4) seems logical enough, but i would argue that those who present it are making an assumption that sealings work in postmortal existence the way they’re applied in mortal existence. (That’s arguably a warranted assumption, but one that one oughtn’t make without explicitly building a case for it.)

Basically, we don’t know. Given the desire of Mormons to fill doctrinal gaps, though, it’s the sort of speculation one would certainly expect to find.

Definitely doesn’t make it right, though.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More weirdness in Mormon culture

So i was at our local Mormon-oriented bookstore a little bit ago, and i saw that they had a bunch of motivational posters for kids based on heroes from the scriptures. (“Real Hero Posters”, they’re called.) I went over to look more closely at them, and i saw that there were about two dozen of them. It was a two-sided display, one side made up of Biblical heroes and the other of Book of Mormon heroes.*

The Biblical side was mostly male heroes, but it had threefour female heroes mixed in. Well, the Book of Mormon is pretty thin on female characters,** so i was curious what they held up as role models for girls.***

Correction: I’d originally only thought that three of the twelve Biblical hero posters featured female characters, but i was wrong—there are four: Ruth, Esther, Hannah, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Not a bad set, i’d say.

Rather to my surprise, there was only one poster out of the twelve Book of Mormon posters that had any female characters,**** and it was (wait for it) the daughters in the wilderness. (That is, the daughters of Lehi and Ishmael who subsisted only on raw meat but still were able to nurse the children they gave birth to.)

I’ve since learned that they’ve come up with one more female-oriented poster in the series: the mothers of Helaman’s stripling warriors.

Um, yeah. I mean, nice stories and all, but Abish gets bupkis? You know, you may remember her—she went house to house among the Lamanites to get attention to what was going on as a result of Ammon’s preaching. Pretty important for the story, and i’d say she’s a pretty good role model for girls (and boys, for that matter). Or if not her, what about the queen of the Lamanites from the same story?

No, instead of women who actually performed active, individual roles in the Book of Mormon, we get women who acted in groups, none of whom even have actual speaking roles.

Not cool, nameless Mormon-oriented commercial products designers. Not cool at all.

* Neat trick, really—you can send only the Biblical half to mainstream Xian bookstores and make money off a larger market segment.

** Famously, the Book of Mormon has only three named female characters that aren't shared with the Bible. There are a handful of other unnamed female individuals or groups that play some sort of plot-movement role, though, and i don’t think they should be forgotten.

*** I was kind of figuring the harlot Isabel was out.

**** See footnote **.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sacramental bread

I have been in wards where there was a strong local directive to only use white bread (as a symbol of purity, i suppose). I’ve also been in wards where there was a strong local directive to only use whole-grain bread (to match up with the Last Supper, i suppose).

Why not just recognize that it makes no difference, and not give any such directive at all?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More on scheduling

Why is it that we rotate meeting times when multiple units use one building? Any building with multiple wards or branches i’ve ever been in, there’s been an annual (usually but not always coincident with the turn of the year) shuffling of meeting times.

Or, in other words, just when people finally get everything in order for the schedule their ward has, we upend everything.

I assume that this stems from general church policy (it’s built into the record-keeping software the church uses, for example), but why in the world do we go through this annual ritual? Why not just say that one ward meets at time X, another at time Y, and the third at time Z, and to keep things simple it’ll stay that way?

Monday, September 6, 2010

When did art become graffiti?

Can we stop it already with the meme that tattoos are bad because they’re like putting graffiti on a temple, in that one’s body is a temple and tattoos involve putting marks on one’s body? Yeah, i know it has the imprimatur of having been used in general conference, but that doesn’t mean the analogy holds up to even minimal scrutiny.

I could understand the whole argument if we built our temples out of rough-hewn stone or maybe even if we only used smoothly polished facing materials, but many (most?) of our temples have decorations carved/cast into the facing material. Really, if we decorate our temples, why are tattoos so different than that?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why we’re better than the rest

I just ran across this absolutely marvelous 1973 quote from Hugh Nibley:

The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism…The haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.

This, of course, is why nobody in any leadership position of our church cares whether boys and men wear white shirts or ties, or whether they wear beards, or whether they have long or short hair, or for that matter whether women wear skirts or dresses, or whether they have multiple earrings. Nope, nobody in our church is concerned with those sorts of things at all.

p.s. I’m considering moving this blog from Blogger to the WordPress platform, possibly hosted on my own server. I know there’s three or four people who read this blog semi-regularly, some of whom are bloggers themselves. Any input on that idea?