"The Mormons"

Having recently watched "The Mormons," a two-part PBS documentary on historical and contemporary aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was planning a hugely huge and deeply in-depth analysis of my impressions for my blog. However, I actually just got back from a Priesthood meeting (I myself am "A Mormon") and I feel that the Lord has better uses of my time than to regurgitate what countless others are producing on their blogs. So I'll just sum it up.

In a nutshell, I learned some new stuff, I found some new stuff to be offended by, and I walked away with the overall feeling that my faith had been strengthened. Briefly, the treatment of Joseph Smith as a contradictory character, saying some things and doing others, editing and revising his own experiences, displaying his human foibles on his sleeve shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, including Church members. Although we don't focus on our leaders' weaknesses, did anyone ever except that Joseph was perfect? His shortcomings don't invalidate his experience or his teachings. Let's say he was an incredible liar and an outrageously power-hungry man (two things that could be inferred from the film) - but as long as he taught the law of God, those who followed him will be blessed and not tarnished by his personal conduct. It is similar to Christ's treatment of the scribes and Pharisees (see Matt 23:1-3), that as the official holders and teachers of the Word, though hypocritical and vain, they should be hearkened to, but not emulated in action. It's easy to attack a person's character, but how do you denounce their faith, and the fruits of that faith? Ok, enough about defending Joseph. I believe him and accept him completely, visions and teachings and lies and sins and all. His human weaknesses make him real to me.

The other main foci of Part I were contemporary polygamy (of course) and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. These issues will live with the Church forever, but I appreciate the Church's treatment of their depiction in the film, rightfully categorizing them as "elements of Utah history" and not necessarily inextricably tied to the Church. Most of Part II was very inspirational, focusing on personal experiences and faith. Some time was alloted to excommunicated members and the pain they go through as they are no longer affiliated with the Church. One woman in particular was excommunicated because of her persistence in speaking out. "I cannot be silent," I believe is what she said. When she's that committed to her own interpretations and conclusions of Church doctrine, then how can she be committed to the inspiration that comes through the small voice of the Spirit of the Lord? It's like blasting the radio and assuming that you'll hear your phone vibrate when your Father is trying to contact you. I think the excommunication in this case was necessary, although the Stake President's stifling treatment of the woman in question was unfortunate and definitely unnecessary. As a member of the Church, you are automatically, unconditionally and always a representative of it - all of your words, teachings and actions make a statement on behalf of the Church, and of Christ himself. This is a promise that members make every Sunday at service. So for a member, who has made sacred promises to stand as a witness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to persist in teaching and perpetuating personal findings that go contrary to the message of the Church and expect full fellowship by that Church is to walk on thin ice.

I've also scoured some of the forums that focused on this documentary over the last week, and it's the comments and sentiment and rhetoric expressed there that I feel is intriguing, perhaps more so than the film itself. Judging by the comments I read, there are three kinds of viewers of this documentary: really closed-minded Mormons on one side, really closed-minded anti-Mormons on the other, and a full spectrum of quiet people in the middle (I tend to lean to the closed-minded Mormon side, unless I can catch myself). Both extremes are very loud and write their comments to infuriate the other, so I won't give my opinion on them. To them, it wouldn't matter anyway. But to the quiet middle, I think this film is a catalyst for good. To the quiet Church members, it might challenge their faith with things they did not know, which leads to deeper soul searching and prayer and stronger faith; to the quiet non-Church members, it might challenge their own beliefs and contextualize the LDS Church, perhaps leading to further investigation of our faith. Both will take what they learned from the film and apply it to their lives, then take what offended them and throw it out the back door. And then they will move on. That's real religion, not just listening to a sermon, not debating a lot about theory and principles and precepts (which is what I'm doing right now) - it's talking a little, listening a little more and then doing much, all for the good of our fellow beings.


Jennie said...

I'm going to Utah this next weekend! So your article was interesting to me. I'm still unclear of why the woman was excommunicated? What was she saying? Was she "talking smack" about the church?

This may be a little off-topic, but I'm reminded of Al Gore and all the mud slinging about his electricity bills. It may be hypocritical, but I don't think that should negate all the great work he's done in helping spread the Global Warming message. Same with anyone who has done much greater good than bad in their lives.
Have you been to the church in La Jolla?

xanghe said...

Great time of year to visit the Beehive State. My favorite is the Fall, when the weather starts to cool off and the hillsides turn bright orange and red with falling leaves. It's funny that you posted about rock climbing on your blog because when I think of Utah I think of rock climbing. It's my dad's new hobby (he lives in Utah), to the point that when he built his new house, he put a climbing wall in the attic. And when I commented on the beautiful rock-plated chimney he installed on the back side, he said, "Oh, that's for when I get tired of the wall." My dad's hard-core, whatever he does.

Yes, I've been to the temple near La Jolla. This one, right? I had a friend once tell me that it should be against safety codes to put it so close to the freeway, he about drove right off the road while he was looking at it. While you're in Utah, try to stop by the temple in Salt Lake City, they have a whole historical tour with it and everything.

As far as the woman who was excommunicated, she wasn't speaking against the Church - it's not speaking against the Church per se that merits such extreme consequences - but she was digging up quotations and comments made by Joseph Smith that aren't Church doctrine then teaching them and perpetuating them and telling others that the current Church has strayed from the "original doctrine" that Joseph Smith established. An essential part of any research is the ability and willingness to discern what is established and valid and genuinely true from extraneous and trite details that lie on the fringe. A true researcher can see past one's own bias and agenda to pluck out the gem of truth, or as near "truth" as we can get - a feeble researcher only "finds" things that fit their motive. I know because I do that too often. :) Those early leaders of the Church were human in a real sense, and in addition to their teachings and directions for the general Church membership, they had their personal opinions and assumptions and conclusions just as we do. Something a leader said in front of the entire Church is vastly different than something they said at the dinner table or at a small gathering of close associates. So Al Gore is not off-topic at all! He might leave all his lights on at night, and that might be a bad thing to do and not conducive to the message he's getting out, but at least he has a message and he's trying to get it out, instead of leaving his lights on all night and being silent about it. To me, there exists no disconnect in a person who can't live up to their own standards. It just means they're human, and they have a long way to go before bringing their actions into accordance with their words. Just like me.

Jennie said...

I have a "tourist" question for you -- is it possible to make a day trip to Moab from SLC? Unfortunately, I won't be able to camp there =(. But I wanted to at least be there one day if possible.. Thanks for any suggestions!

xanghe said...

Depends how you define a "day trip." Is it possible to drive from SLC to Moab and back in one day? Yes. But you have to leave really early in the morning and come home really late at night if you plan on playing the whole day. Last year I did a day trip to Bryce Canyon (about the same distance) - I think we left at 4:00am or something. Here's my pictures from that trip (a little goofy). I'm the white one :)

You're planning on stopping by Arches National Park while you're down there, right?

Jennie said...

Hey Xanghe, we did it! We woke up early (not 4am, but 6am) and managed to explore Arches. BUT I am sad to say we didn't have a chance to see teh Delicate Arch. We saw all the arches but that one. It was super hot yesterday and we just ran out of time. Oh well. Next time =)

Thanks for sharing!

xanghe said...

Glad to hear you were able to make it all in one day!

Well, missing the Delicate arch just means you'll have to stop by again. Next time, you should try Bryce and Zions and Lake Powell. Fun stuff.

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
  • 02.14.08 - Mẫu's alive! and staying for the weekend
  • 02.15.08 - floor hockey and Thái food makes for some strange dreams
  • 02.17.08 - frisbee and swamp monster at the park: fun but I'm pooped!
  • 02.19.08 - just read Triết's response to my last post - game on!
  • 02.20.08 - raining and expected to continue through Sunday - thank goodness!
  • 02.21.08 - 3-hour nap is a bad idea right before bed
  • 02.23.08 - to the beach to watch kites, a baptism @ 5pm, and homemade bulgogi - what a day!
  • 02.25.08 - just gave myself a haircut - woo, cold head!
  • 02.26.08 - 75° and spring cleaning - couldn't feel better
  • 02.27.08 - fed the elders bún đậu tonight - think it's their first time
  • 03.01.08 - working on new background...
  • 03.02.08 - finalized javascript to change background without muffing up my other scripts
  • 03.03.08 - fhe: "In his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12)
  • 03.07.08 - some decisions are harder than others, but some are downright excruciating
  • 03.08.08 - there is life after work... i almost forgot
  • 03.11.08 - the distance between good and bad is much shorter than between better and best
  • 03.12.08 - conversion is sometimes a gradual process, so much so that we don't even notice
  • 03.14.08 - for some reason everything was a little harder today, looking forward for bed!
  • 03.15.08 - last night after blog reading, I missed OnlyBlue, today I find she's back
  • 03.16.08 - best day of my life!
  • 03.19.08 - "Pray for the answer that they've been looking for"
release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
  • 12.07 - first thought of starting a new blog
  • 01.08 - busy with election stuff but blog design still on back burner
  • 01.13.08 - first idea to imitate jk rowling with the "desk" theme
  • 01.28.08 - start sketching current design, breaking down development into phases
  • 02.02.08 - election only days away but still drafting final plans
  • 02.04.08 - v0.6 LAUNCH
    • main components (blog body, sidebar, header, etc) designed and implemented
    • styling for font, links, drop caps, etc. finished
  • 02.07.08 - v0.8 LAUNCH
    • image style to imitate polariod
    • moveability - post-it notes and static clings can be repositioned by drag and drop
    • release notes styled and written
  • 02.16.08 - travel log (beta) added in hopes of catching the mundane
  • 02.22.08 - lightbox 2.03 reinstalled and working fine (hopefully - let me know otherwise)
  • 02.26.08 - v0.9 LAUNCH
    • travel log seems to be working, so I'll keep it
    • lightbox also seems to have passed the test, so it's a keeper
    • some credits/info added to bottom (will expand)
    • keeping old Viet terms in archive for future viewing
  • 03.18.08 - v1.0 LAUNCH
    • installation and testing of time-sensitive background completed (for now)