Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hey preacher, leave those kids alone!

(Cross-posted at Main Street Plaza.)

I have a 6-year old daughter, and one issue that will start coming up soon is baptism. It’s not the actual baptism that bothers me; I basically see it as a rite of passage. I think eight years old is far too young to decide to join a religion, but if my daughter wants to do it, that’s great. What makes me most uncomfortable is the prospect of interviews with the bishop.

Interviews make me uncomfortable for several reasons. First, I’m not thrilled about a relative stranger probing for private, personal details of my children’s lives, especially without her parents in the room. I’m not okay with the church acting in loco parentis when the parentis is already loco. Second, the church ostensibly teaches a concept of Jesus Christ as a mediator between us and God. However, in my experience, the institution itself likes to usurp that place, and interviews are a powerful way to do that. Third, most of the shortcomings one is asked to confess are not really shortcomings. The bishop asks questions to determine whether you are a good Mormon, not whether you are a good person. And finally, the horror stories. Oh, the horror stories.

Our bishop seems like a good guy, but I’ve heard the stories many times, from people I know. The perverted bishop who pried for details about a young girl’s level of intimacy with her boyfriend. The girl who had no idea what oral sex was until the bishop described it in detail. God forbid, the actual sexual abuse that occasionally shows up on the evening news. I’m sure that most interviews are not like this, probably not even close. But you never know when it will happen. In a private room with a closed door, with a young girl who believes the bishop speaks with the authority of God, inappropriate things will sometimes happen. And as the parent of a daughter, it worries me.

Strangely, I’m not as worried about my younger sons, at least not as far as the inappropriate questions and behavior. Maybe that’s because they’re not old enough to be interviewed yet. Or maybe it’s because almost every horror story I’ve heard happened to a girl.

I see value in the act of confession, whether it be to another person or simply in your own private reflections or prayers. It can help us become better people by identifying our shortcomings, but only if we define a plan of action for overcoming those faults and improving our lives. I think it’s interesting that in the Catholic church, you are given the choice to speak with the priest face-to-face, or to keep your confession (theoretically) anonymous. I can see how anonymity could help you feel that you are confessing to God, not just to the guy across the desk. I can’t ever see the LDS church moving toward anonymous confessions, because the point of the interview is to identify a connection between your identity and your status vis-à-vis the church. I think the interview is meant to strengthen one’s loyalty to the institution, not one’s penitence before God.

On a related note, has anyone noticed that the LDS church has gone a little interview crazy lately? Tithing settlement, temple recommends, PPIs, and you had to get a special recommend to attend the recent temple dedications in the Salt Lake Valley, for crying out loud. This screams of control tactics to me. I don’t remember Jesus grilling his apostles about masturbation. He usually just said, “Come, follow me.”

Anyway, I’m not sure of the best course of action. I think all the potential problems may be alleviated by insisting that my children not be interviewed unless one of their parents is present in the room. It still doesn’t thrill me, but at least I may retain a modicum of control over the situation. If my child feels less inclined to divulge personal secrets that way, so much the better. It's none of their business anyway.

Do you have any interview stories of your own? Do any of you have kids that have been through interviews? How did you feel about it? How did you handle it?

Friday, September 11, 2009

MSP: The Ethics of Speaking Up

C.L. Hanson invited me to blog over at Main Street Plaza (don't worry, this blog isn't going anywhere), and today was my first post. It's called The Ethics of Speaking Up, and I hope you enjoy it. It's about a question that has been on my mind for a long time, which I don't have a good answer to. When do you speak up, what do you say, and who do you say it to? Especially in the context of church or conversations with believers, I have no idea what the right answer is.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gay scientists isolate Christian gene

Swiped this from de-conversion:

Drinking Skeptically with Salt City Skeptics, tomorrow night!

For any of you in the Salt Lake City area who are interested in good drinks and good conversation, there's a Drinking Skeptically event tomorrow night (Wednesday), 7:00 at Piper Down. I went last month and had a great time. Eat dinner beforehand or order something there, either is fine. Just be there!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Good week at church today

Most weeks for me at church are really irritating, but this week was actually pretty awesome. I think it started last night as I was dreaming about (not really dreaming, more like my brain was trying to work out) how I could be more active and part of the church community even as total unbeliever. I'm not sure I want to commit to anything regular, like - heaven forbid - a calling. But I like some of the people at church and I could probably stand to be more social.

So I approached the day with a positive attitude. My wife got a migraine just before we were about to leave the house, and I surprised her when I said I would take the kids to church by myself. Not for all three hours; I'm not that crazy. But long enough for my wife to take a nap.

The Elders Quorum lesson was about profanity. The instructor is one of my favorite people at church, because he always has an entertaining way of saying things. He took an interesting approach wherein he alternately would write "fake" swear words on the board, but then refused to say "Dios" out of respect, even though he said the word in English when he asked, "What's the Spanish word for God?" I volunteered "cheese and rice" as fake swear words. He didn't get it, and I didn't explain it.

I brought up the recent study showing that using actual swear words can alleviate pain in physically painful situations, and the instructor said that you could probably find a study to support any position. He mentioned conflicting studies about the benefits of wine, and said we should take those kinds of studies with a grain of salt. The guy next to me and I looked at each other immediately. He said, "Salty wine?" I said, "Maybe with a margarita, but not with wine, ugh!"

The instructor then proceeded to cite a few scientific studies as part of his lesson. For some reason I can't remember which studies they were, but they were good ones. I thought the irony was kind of funny, but then again, I was amusing myself throughout the whole lesson. Other people piped up and talked about how the most offensive part of profanity was the (sometimes) hurtful intent behind it, not necessarily the words themselves. Not everyone was convinced.

After the lesson, one guy came up to me in the hallway and said he had read about the same study I cited. We got talking, and I was surprised that we agreed about nearly everything regarding profanity, even down to the idea that words truly have no meaning except the meaning we give them. It was perhaps the coolest conversation I've ever had in church.

The Sunday School lesson was about "celestial marriage", and I was prepared to bite my tongue hard when the instructor started reading from D&C 132. But instead, it turned into a discussion about nice things we can do for our spouses to show them we love them. I enjoyed the conversation so much, I even stopped reading my book! In fact, I was in such a good mood by the end, I even said the closing prayer when I was called on spontaneously to say it. Most weeks I either would have declined, or seated myself farther back to begin with.

Anyway, as long as I'm going to church, and I don't see that ending anytime soon, I think having a positive attitude helps a lot. I'm going to try to do that more often, and to look for ways to interact that don't require me to share everyone else's beliefs. I'm not sure what exactly that means, but it was a good day and I'm feeling encouraged.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

He wants evil powers

Jesus in GethsemaneA few months ago, my wife and I were substitute teachers in a primary class at church. I remember it was my son's class, so it must have been the four-year olds. I usually like teaching primary, and try to focus the kids' attention while also being goofy and uncontroversial. I enjoy being goofy and uncontroversial, which doesn't seem to happen much at church anymore. I also enjoy teaching lessons like "I'm Thankful For My Toes". Apparently they've recently changed the lesson manual so the lessons are more like "Follow the Prophet" (big surprise), but that's another story.

I also love all the funny things kids say. At some point during the lesson, my wife held up the picture you see above. It's a picture of Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. My wife asked, "What is Jesus doing in this picture?" And one girl replied immediately, "He wants powers. He wants evil powers." I couldn't stop laughing. The same girl mentioned "powers" at least two more times before the end of the lesson. Primary is awesome.