Reading back through the recent posts at Keepapitchin (sorry Ardis, I haven’t been keeping up :) ), I found a great piece on those long-lived, die-hard “doctrines” that aren’t really doctrines at all. Things like how Jesus was married…with children…to multiple wives(?!?!). Or how blacks couldn’t receive the priesthood because they were [insert made-up reason here] in the pre-mortal life. Or any number of other eclectic tidbits (I had mission companion who had been taught that Cain survived the Flood in a specially built one-man submarine).
She closes with this question:
Why the heck do we do that? Why do we perpetuate these wild speculations from the past, when we know, or ought to know, that they aren’t true?
Here’s my theory on it: it’s like relationships with old friends. I have a few friends I’ve kept in touch with since middle school. Our relationships have developed and matured, and it’s been wonderful and rewarding.
In contrast, Facebook has allowed me to re-establish contact with acquaintances I haven’t seen in 20 years or more. My elementary-school best friend, my CTR B classmate, my secret “like” from fifth grade. The thing that’s been most interesting to me is how these relationships pick up exactly where they left off. My friend David showed me his rosary beads when we were kids, and he told me how it’s a sin to let them touch the floor. Now, 25 years later, he’s still a devout Catholic in my mind. My memory took that one experience and blew it out of proportion to define his entire persona.
The speculative, “hush hush” doctrines in the church are like those friends that you haven’t seen in years. Because we never talk about them, we also never examine them, or allow them to develop and mature. Many of these underground doctrines are ones we picked up in our youth, at a time when most of us didn’t have much perspective or any kind of framework for assessing them. They remain frozen just the way we understood them as six-year-olds (when Mom made an offhand comment about only taking the sacrament with the right hand).
So how do we resolve that? I think the only solution is to engage them. Like with the old friends, you connect with them, talk a bit, and get some perspective on what they’ve become since last you saw them. If church teachers proactively address “speculative doctrines” in lessons where they’re relevant (for example, bringing up the “the earth is hollow and the Ten Tribes live inside it” bit during a lesson on the gathering of Israel), it can allow people to re-engage those teachings with the added wisdom they’ve gained over years.
I imagine that many of them (like me) will find themselves saying, “You know, I haven’t really thought about that since I was a kid. I just assumed that it was true because that’s what I was taught, but now that you mention it…” Then the brain pulls it out from those cobwebby corners of the memory and puts it in the light, and it is illuminated for what it is — maybe something interesting and thought-provoking, maybe something personally useful but institutionally dubious, or maybe just something groundless and sensational.