Mormonism, a la carte

There are two ways to eat out, broadly speaking: You can order a pre-set meal from the menu, or you can order a la carte. Do we have the same options with religion?

The prevailing paradigm in the church is a menu of pre-set meals. Church members should accept Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, revelation, prophets, basic commandments like tithing, Word of Wisdom, chastity — those are the meat and potatoes (or eggplant and potatoes, for the vegetarians). The pre-set menu, however, also comes with a lot of lima beans, boiled peas, capers, cilantro, scallops, curry, and calamari — the kinds of foods that have some devoted fans, but which set off disgust and protest in many others. These may be items like polygamy, attitudes on homosexuality and gay marriage, Book of Mormon historicity, gender roles, Blacks and the Priesthood, the Book of Abraham.

The writing on the pre-set menu seems to suggest that the side items are mandatory. If you order the meat and potatoes of Joseph Smith and revelation, you must accept the lima beans and calamari of polygamy and the Book of Abraham. And many members seem to zealously guard the menu. Ask questions about polygamy or gender roles or same-sex marriage, and such members will fall back on the menu package: If Joseph Smith was a prophet, if the Book of Mormon is true, then one must accept polygamy and denial of the priesthood to Blacks. If you want the meat and potatoes, you’ve got to take the lima beans too.

Is such an approach really required? Can we ever go off-menu? Once, years, ago, my wife and I had dinner with a couple of friends. I don’t recall how, but my wife asked the restaurant to modify one of their entrees. Our friends were shocked. “You can _do_ that? You can ask for them to do things that aren’t on the menu?” (Those friends, incidentally, are among the most politically conservative and theologically orthodox Mormons I’ve ever met — they’re folks who voted for Bo Gritz because Bush-I wasn’t conservative enough for them). Since then, casual observance makes me wonder if the country is becoming even more expactant about a la carte availability.

The bloggernacle seems to be filled with people who want to go off-menu when it comes to religion, creating and discovering their own entrees or even entire cuisines. Such an approach is fraught with difficulties. How exactly can one gently suggest to the chef that she use more mushrooms and fewer capers? You could offend the chef by even asking — and then your steak will be _really_ bad. Finally, there’s a middle road of sorts. You can try to quietly eat your chicken and mushrooms and ignore the eggplant and lima beans, stack them up on the side of the plate, and hope that no one says “hey buddy, you’ve got a lot of lima beans piled up there.”

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think that the church is required to be a dim sum shop, all a la carte, all the time. I think that the pre-set menu approach probably works well for most people — and that’s why the menu is the way it is. First, the menu is created by experts — they know how to pair foods. And second, no restaurant sets out to create an unpleasant menu.

So the chicken cacciatori is on the menu not to oppress you, but because it’s well-liked by a lot of people. Restaurants are about finding the happy medium, keeping the largest number of people satisfied. Despite arguments otherwise, I think the church has a pretty good barometer on where to put the defaults for its menu. Most church members seem to do pretty well with it. Similarly, most folks like peanut butter with jelly; that’s why it’s a classic. But some people don’t like PB&J.

Staying on menu works well for a significant cohort of diners; those folks never need to worry about anything else. The rest of us have three choices. We can grit our teeth, smile, and swallow the lima beans. (A foreign-country mission does wonders for one’s ability to feign palatability.) We can try to order off menu, and hope that the chef isn’t offended. Or we can order from the menu but then eat a la carte, and hope that none of our fellow diners finds that approach distasteful.

Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to order the ice cream torte. But please, hold the caramel. And throw on a few anchovies, some capers, and a healthy sprinkling of cilantro.

87 comments for “Mormonism, a la carte

  1. sue
    June 7, 2006 at 12:17 am

    Ala cart religion is a tough proposition, because it isn’t supposed to be about whether or not what is being served is appetizing, but whether or not it’s true. It isn’t about whether or not you believe the dishes are tasty, but whether or not you believe that the man who made them was a chef or a hack.

    When I keep seeing a bunch of stuff coming out of the kitchen that smells, I start wondering about whether or not the guy in the kitchen is a chef or not. Now if I really believed with all of my heart that the guy was a chef, not just a chef, but THE chef, I’d probably consider it a unique dining experience. After all – people eat all kinds of crap in the name of gourmet dining. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, it’s just what I struggle with.

    I’ll be interested to see how people who DO believe that the prophet is a prophet are a la carte but believing members though. I can’t work my way around to that mindset. I’m still stuck in the – either it’s true or it isn’t frame of mind.

  2. sue
    June 7, 2006 at 12:18 am

    Sorry, in that first paragraph, the second sentence should have read:

    It isn’t about whether or not you believe the dishes are tasty, but what you believe about the origins of the dish – whether or not you believe that the man who made them was a chef or a hack.

  3. Adam Greenwood
    June 7, 2006 at 12:25 am

    Truth isn’t a matter of preference, Kaimi. The Church doesn’t have a “menu” because it “works well for a significant cohort of diners.” Doctrines aren’t focus-tested. Not to say that doctrine isn’t influenced ever by what people want (truth is added or taken away based on the righteousness or wickedness of the people), but there’s a whole heckuva lot more going on than focus groups.

    I think your comparison to menus means well but ultimately trivializes the arguments we have about accepting church doctrine in a way that even Cafeteria Mormons would find offensive. Its supposed to be my position that they’re acting as if truth were a menu they could customize to suit their whims, not yours.

  4. Lunar Quaker
    June 7, 2006 at 12:30 am

    If the Church were like a restaurant, then no one would have anything to complain about. But the church\’s program isn\’t to provide people with a menu of choices. It\’s more like an abusive babysitter trying to force-feed a toddler some strained peas. The babysitter thinks she knows what\’s best for the child (you better eat your veggies, or else!) but in the end she\’s really just a caretaking imposter.

    The Church doesn\’t offer pre-set meals from a menu, neither does it allow people to order a la carte. There is no menu. There is only one meal available, and if you don\’t like it, you either starve to death or go find a different place to eat.

  5. Mark Butler
    June 7, 2006 at 12:43 am

    The value of systematic theology of course, is that everything fits together as a package, if you do not like part of the meal, you eventually develop a taste for it, because it is a logical consequence of the other parts.

  6. Mark Butler
    June 7, 2006 at 1:06 am

    Either that or the whole edifice comes crumbling down…

  7. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 1:21 am

    I really dislike the metaphor. The first time I heard the phrase “Cafeteria Catholic”, I found it utterly ridiculous (and, secondarily insulting). There aren’t pickers-and-choosers and then those who faithfully meander through the set menu. We all pick and choose, emphasize and tread softly in our religion. You just can’t hold the whole of a faith – doctrine or actions – in the mind and through the body all at one time. Those that think they’ve embraced the whole truth unconditionally and completely in their practice are sitting at the table, plates galore aforefront, stuffing themselves while never getting to all the plates nor savoring the particular ones before them. In other words, they’re gluttons.

  8. Mark IV
    June 7, 2006 at 1:30 am

    I think your comparison to menus means well but ultimately trivializes the arguments we have about accepting church doctrine in a way that even Cafeteria Mormons would find offensive.

    Adam G., (3)

    But Adam, are we not all cafeteria Mormons, to some degree? By that I mean that each of us has a hierarchy of doctrines or practices, and it doesn’t bother us to neglect some of them, at least temporarily, in order to focus on the doctrines we consider to be more important.

    Years ago, somebody went through the GHI and added up all the things that a bishop is supposed to do. It came to over 80 hours per week. Clearly, a bishop needs to choose where his time and efforts can be most effectively deployed. I don’t think it is any different for members in general. Some of us feel a great urgency about the work for the dead, others emphasize emergency preparedness, and yet others talk of nothing but missionary work. I think God gives us inspiration in these matters.

    I’ll be interested to see how people who DO believe that the prophet is a prophet are a la carte but believing members though.

    sue, (1)

    Hi, sue! Pleased to meet you! I believe the prophet is a prophet, and I also believe what Alma 5 says, about simply having a desire to believe. We don’t need to accept everything all at once, but we can taste different things and discern for ourselves whether they are good. Paul used his own menu analogy when he taught about “milk before meat”. Of course, the hard part comes when we have to acknowledge that we have stayed in the “milk” stage long enough, and that lima beans are good for us.

  9. MikeInWeHo
    June 7, 2006 at 1:51 am

    Amen Aletheia!! Every thoughtful person in every religion picks-and-chooses. In that sense, we’re all in the cafeteria. The only questions is whether we realize it or not.

    And isn’t gluttony a mortal sin in Catholicism?

    I’m trying to figure out the purpose of this post, Kaimi. Are you looking for others who will support you in claiming that you can reject certain doctrines, moral views (esp. homosexuality), the BoA, BoM historicity, etc, and still be a faithful Latter-Day Saint? Seems to me the leadership has painted itself into a bit of a corner over the years, because it has clearly and repeatedly renounced the notion that one can pick-and-choose. Use the search function on lds.org and look up “follow the prophet.” There is little ambiguity to be found. Personally, I’ll pass on the 10% pris-fixe carte d’eglise, and find a snack somewhere else.

  10. Mark Butler
    June 7, 2006 at 1:52 am

    The phrase “cafeteria Catholic” was never intended to imply people who chose to focus on one area or another, it was intended to describe those Catholics who refused to believe in cardinal doctrines of the faith, notably the one on abortion.

    A bishop may not have time to do all that he is asked to do, but I doubt that many have a problem *believing* that the instructions are valuable.

    The general challenge is people (like me) who cannot comprehend the sanity or consistency of certain doctrines or pseudo-doctrines, and come to alternative conclusions about certain points. I don’t think this is much of a problem until it rises to the point of creating a schism in the Church, creating a popular following, publically criticizing the current leaders of the Church, especially by name, and so on.

    The ultimate responsibility to *interpret* and *implement* revelation according to the dictates of the Spirit is in the hands of each member, within the scope of his or her stewardship – God does not force any man to heaven, and neither will his Church, nor compel belief. Too much like the Methodists, says the Prophet Joseph Smith. (no offense)

  11. June 7, 2006 at 7:14 am

    I think I’m a bit of an ala carte Mormon myself, but not because I am just picking what I “like,” which is what the analogy suggests, (perhaps not purposely) and maybe not even because of milk before meat. It’s because I can’t bring myself to stick the lima beans in my mouth, and it bothers me to see them sitting on the plate.

    So, why don’t I just order a different meal or from a different menu? Well, because this is the best resturant in town, I love the entree, and maybe someday, my taste buds will change enough that I can at least entertain the thought of clearing my plate.

  12. Seth R.
    June 7, 2006 at 9:12 am

    I don’t do “a la carte” much.

    It’s just too expensive.

  13. Anneli
    June 7, 2006 at 9:35 am

    The Chef may have designed perfect dishes but that doesn\’t mean that the sous-chef, much less the line cooks will always create the dishes perfectly. Maybe too much or too little onion was added to the fajita. Maybe they have run out of bread for the evening. So the dish as it is served to you may not be the dish as it was designed by The Chef. While it may make no sense to pick and choose which truths we will live based on which truths we like, it still makes sense to determine what is truth and what is not. And sometimes choking down the lima beans when you aren\’t sure whether they are meant to be a part of the meal or not.

    (I have been lurking/reading this blog for a couple of years. Thanks for the insights.)

  14. Jonathan Green
    June 7, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Well, Kaimi, I guess you can compare faith to a mustard seed, but if you compare it to mustard (hold the mayo, please), you’ve crossed a line somewhere. Who knew?

    Sometimes, I think, ordering a chocolate shake but being served lima beans instead has a purpose that is not necessarily that you actually eat the lima beans, but rather that you have the chance to hold a pale-green cardioid between thumb and forefinger, examine it from all sides, and ponder on the question: “Why am I being served lima beans when I asked for a chocolate shake?”

  15. Rosalynde Welch
    June 7, 2006 at 10:10 am

    You have to order from the set menu, I think, but you may sometimes leave a side-dish unfinished on your plate. You should leave it there with fear and trembling, however, not with triumphalism and denunciations.

  16. annegb
    June 7, 2006 at 10:19 am

    I’m sort of hungry now.

  17. June 7, 2006 at 10:23 am

    “Why am I being served lima beans when I asked for a chocolate shake?�

    “You should leave it there with fear and trembling, however, not with triumphalism and denunciations.”

    Great comments, JG and RW.

    Kaimi,

    You are saying that we have preferences over what is true doctrine. That is unfortunately(!) true. Personally, my inclination is that we should take what’s true and toss the rest, whether we like it or not. Then the question is not, which food do I like? But rather, which food is true, whether I like it or not? If “you can’t handle the truth!”(tm, Jack Nicholson), well that is a normal human failing that we all have. But we should recognize it as a weakness, to be made strong by our prayers.

  18. June 7, 2006 at 10:28 am

    I don’t like capers.

  19. dsilversmith
    June 7, 2006 at 10:29 am

    I knew there would be problems form a kid who would not eat his peas!

    Food fills two separat funtions. First fuel for the body, next entertainment. You do not have to like it to fuel your body. I know, When starving you can and will eat things that you never thought of as food.(like lima beans). However once you are past the starving state then food becomes entertainment. “I like this, or I hate that” and the wars with parents who tell you about kids starving in China. Too much of one type(ie. suger, fat, ect) can cause problems and so on.

    Maybe the Gosple is like that. To the starving any part is great, but to those of us who have had the feast we have become picky. Wanting only the sweet and not getting the balanced meal that we nead. We are warned and can see the benifits, but in the end its what we put on our own plates and what we eat off the plate befor us that will make the differance.

  20. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 10:37 am

    Mark,

    I think that “Cafeteria Catholic” as a term has experienced a good deal of drift. It did come out of the tensions around reproduction in the Catholic Church (including birth control as well as abortion) and was meant to imply that those Catholics at the cafeteria didn’t have the fullness of doctrine. I think now it’s used more generally as a way for old-timers and hard-liners, whatever their issue or peeve, to exalt their own faithfulness as against less fervent or more thoughtful positions. To give you an example of this at work in popular culture: Bishop Aringarosa, the renegade head of Opus Dei in The Da Vinci Code, makes use of the term during his mock interview on the plane. The term’s use there borders on being a simple expression of contempt. I’d say that when Dan Brown grabs onto a term, its meaning probably isn’t what it used to be.

  21. Julie M. Smith
    June 7, 2006 at 10:49 am

    I think the problem is not whether one is ordering off menu, but what constitutes the menu. While we might be into nailing jello to a wall stuff here, I think that the questions of the temple recommend are the menu. Everything else is appetizers and desserts. I think where the rubber hits the roadkill is when people start thinking that their thoughts on polygamy or the curse of Cain _matter_. If it isn’t affecting your ability to get a temple recommend, don’t eat it unless you like it.

  22. Randy B.
    June 7, 2006 at 11:20 am

    What Julie said.

  23. June 7, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    I think the analogy is rather flawed. If you want to stick with the meal imagery, I think it is better to envision a pot-luck, where the main course is provided. There are prominent people who always bring the same sidedish, going back for generations – say green jello with carrots. This green Jello has always been at the putluck since the begining of the potluck. There are even assertions that it was at the pot-lucks in ancient times. The reality is that it is only the main dish that is important.

    Even then, it is just the ingredients of the main dish that are important. As the pot-luck expanded, it became difficult and expensive to invest in the main dish so much, so it has been institutionally pre-pared.

  24. June 7, 2006 at 12:17 pm

    A pot-luck where the main dish is provided — not too bad an analogy I think.

  25. June 7, 2006 at 12:17 pm

    A la Carte Mormonism – Isn’t that the same thing as a church calling?

    At age 19 – for two years I did nothing but Missionary Work.
    At age 23 – I’m in college doing a lot of scripture study.
    At age 30 – I’m in the elder’s quorum presidency teaching that Home Teaching is the most important calling.
    At age 40 – Now i’m spending all of my time with scouting and youth programs and preparing the next generations of church leaders and missionaries. Meanwhile both my inlaws and parents are practicing the gospel of going to the temple and doing family genealogy.

    Clearly we pick and choose to what parts of the gosple we spend our time.

  26. Yomo
    June 7, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    \”Years ago, somebody went through the GHI and added up all the things that a bishop is supposed to do. It came to over 80 hours per week. Clearly, a bishop needs to choose where his time and efforts can be most effectively deployed. I don’t think it is any different for members in general. Some of us feel a great urgency about the work for the dead, others emphasize emergency preparedness, and yet others talk of nothing but missionary work. I think God gives us inspiration in these matters.\” Mark IV (8)
    But there is a difference from what we accept in terms of responsibilities and what we accept as doctrine and belief. One can be considered a good Mormon and not do any genealogy, but I\’m sure the Church leaders would frown on anyone who told others in the Church that he believed everthing in the Church except for the Book of Abraham, which he considered false but nice reading. I have never heard anything in the Church\’s teaching\’s to suggest we can \’pick\’ to believe one thing or the other, as far as I can tell from GA talks its an all or nothing deal.

  27. Yomo
    June 7, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    The Analogy Works!
    Some are pointing out that the analogy doesn’t work because we don’t ‘do’ everything that the Church teaches at all times in our lives or we apply different uses of different gospel ‘tools’.
    But has anyone ever heard any leader of the Church suggest that we can pick or choose to BELIEVE different parts of the Gospel? We can’t live every aspect but I’ve never heard anything to suggest that we can decide that The Book of Mormon is false and accept Joseph Smith, or that we can say polygamy was a mistake by the early leaders, or that we can believe some aspects of the Church doctrine but not others. On the contrary from every GC talk I’ve heard it is quite clear that it is a set course meal, take it or leave it. You can maybe have lingering ‘questions’ about some of the menu, but you can’t flat out reject it. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but I don’t see any evidence to suggest it is different from the given analogy.

  28. June 7, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Kaimi,

    I think your post would have gotten a much better reaction if you had posted it on June 4 instead of June 7. Your audience would have been much more amenable to lengthy food descriptions on fast sunday…

  29. June 7, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    No, I don’t think we can pick and choose not to believe certain things are true. But what does it mean to believe something is true? I believe, for example, that the Book of Abraham is inspired pseudepigrapha. Is there anything wrong with that? If I incorporate its teachings into my life and worldview, and seek to understand God through its words, what difference does it make whether I believe that Joseph Smith held in his hand something that Abraham himself had written on?

    It seems to me that, in Mormon/Christian thought, the purpose of life (or at least a key purpose) is to start becoming like Christ. Joseph Smith himself said that the atonement is the most important belief, and that everything else is an appendage. I think all of us pick and choose to some extent, but if we strive to live the kind of life that Jesus did, and follow the truth that we know, we’ll end up OK.

  30. Carolyn
    June 7, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    I think a distinction needs to be made between the doctrines of the church and the programs and policies that result from the doctrines. The doctrines of the church are eternal. On the other hand programs and policies change over time.

    The problem arises when people confuse programs with doctrine. There are those who would defend every policy change as though it were new doctrine. They believe in a set menu of doctrine, policies and programs. Others believe that the doctrine is the set menu and that we should be able to choose from the policies and programs according to our circumstances and the promptings of the spirit.

    The doctrines of the church are inspired. Programs and policies on the other hand are made by fallible human beings who can receive inspiration but who are also capable of making mistakes. Joseph Smith himself made a few decisions on behalf of the church that didn’t exactly work out. That doesn’t mean that he was not a true prophet.

    And herein lies the crux of the matter. Do you believe that our leaders are incapable of error and therefore every policy and program of the church is inspired? (For this to happen the Lord would have to completely take away their free agency and control everything they do.)

    Or do you believe that the Lord allows his leaders to retain their ability to make decisions, thereby preserving their free agency, and provides them with inspiration as needed? This view allows for occasional mistakes and the growth that results.

    I subscribe to the second view. Anything else flies in the face of history.

    It would be helpful if when our leaders introduced new policies they were labeled as such and not as new revelation. That would make it easier to admit when policies fail. (Anyone remember 18-month missions?)

    It would also be helpful if members didn’t cling to policies and programs because they regard them as inspired. This makes it much harder for the church to respond to changing demographics and cultural patterns when those programs become outdated.

  31. Julie M. Smith
    June 7, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    “The doctrines of the church are eternal.”

    Are you sure that that is true in all cases?

  32. June 7, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Who wants to work food allergies into the story?

    Nowadays, I have to interrogate waiters at great length before I can safely eat in a restaurant, and even then, at least half of any given menu is off limits to me… that’s got to represent something! Why, oh why, would I be given such a trial, if it had no metaphorical significance?

  33. Carolyn
    June 7, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Julie,

    I’m not sure what you are asking me. What I meant is that if it doesn’t have eternal significance it’s not doctrine, just policy.

  34. June 7, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    In comment #30, Carolyn said, “..The Lord allows his leaders to retain their ability to make decisions…occasional mistakes and the growth that results”

    I completely agree. And I would submit that following our leaders, provided we have a testimony that they are divinely called (and I do), will ALWAYS result in our blessing. I’m not saying that everything they say or do or counsel is exactly what God would want. I’m saying that the Lord will always bless us for being obedient–He will always bless us for plugging our noses and swallowing the lima beans, if that is what we have been counselled to do.

  35. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    Re #27 – As a rule, the cafeteria analogy is not only trite but counterproductive and flawed on many levels. Really, all it does is make for a proclamation of one’s mainline status (whatever the denomination) and stigmatize the rest for not being mainline enough. Nevertheless, it surprises me how quick-to-the-tongue the phrase has become among some because of the analogy’s inherent flaws. Firstly, it is by no means reverent and you’d think this would bother the pious souls who take to the analogy. My unwavering adherence to the True Church is akin to ordering at a restaurant? The difference between churches is on the order of Chinese vs. Mexican? Secondly it simplifies the workings of belief. My faith in a church and my relationship to its doctrines (particularly and as a group) is an act of will as whimsical and willful as choosing menu items. Personally, when I choose between the sushi dinner and yakisoba I capriciously consult my stomach and face no more dilemma when the meals finished than quibblings about overpaying and wondering if I’ll come back another time. For me, this is nothing like the thought process and practice of faith. Finally, it just isn’t a very good account of the preparing of food (Our givers of doctrine are making calculations of price and content as if they’re restaurateurs?), eating (As I said before, you can’t gobble up the whole cafeteria), or anything else. But, hey, maybe I’m being picky because literal eating or refraining from it make such a large part of my religious experience. They have to when my Church has me fast in one form or another about a third of the calendar year.

    That said, I think you can have a decent discussion on the fundamentals of belief and belonging in a church. Can you be a Bible-believing Southern Baptist and accept modern biblical criticism? Can you be a good Catholic and support the continued legalization of abortion? Can you be a good Christian while stopping your mouth and closing your pocket to the poor (while giving to your Church and national political party, of course)? Perhaps believing in the historicity of the BofM (although some contributors to Dialogue and some of my Mormon friends are not so sure) or supporting the call to support the marriage amendment are sin qua non . The cafeteria metaphor will only take you a short way in making such determinations, though.

  36. Adam Greenwood
    June 7, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    “Firstly, it is by no means reverent and you’d think this would bother the pious souls who take to the analogy. My unwavering adherence to the True Church is akin to ordering at a restaurant? The difference between churches is on the order of Chinese vs. Mexican? Secondly it simplifies the workings of belief. My faith in a church and my relationship to its doctrines (particularly and as a group) is an act of will as whimsical and willful as choosing menu items.”

    Aletheia, you’re right about what the cafeteria metaphor does, but wrong about why pious souls use it. They don’t view their faith as a cafeteria themselves, but they’re accusing the less-wholly committed of doing so. They’re saying that picking and choosing doctrines reduces religious commitment to the kind of whimsical, willful, and self-gratifying choices one would make at a restaurant. That’s why I thought it was so odd that Kaimi W. used the cafeteria metaphor to defend ‘Cafeteria Mormonism.’ Its not a defense, its a slur.

  37. Carolyn
    June 7, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Keryn,

    Eating the lima beans is a personal choice and I respect you for it.

    While a person may be divinely called, it doesn’t necessarily follow that every decision they make in that calling will be inspired. I believe we are also entitled to receive a confirmation of what we are being asked to do, especially if it involves a major decision.

    I think we can also ask for and receive revelation even if we just have questions about what we are being asked to do. I have done this in my own life when I wasn’t sure about certain issues. I was amazed at the circumstances that arose and the way my questions were answered directly.

    On the rare occasions when I knew the particular counsel I was receiving from a leader was not from the Lord I have tried to take it in stride, keeping in mind the person giving the counsel still had my best interest at heart. However, I did not feel bound to follow the counsel. If I had, I would have felt like I was abdicating responsibility for my own life. But that’s just me.

    And when I’m not sure, I just follow the leadership. At least I try. Haven’t reached perfection yet. ;-)

  38. DavidH
    June 7, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    I do not have a “testimony” of each and every teaching (“doctrine”?), policy, tradition, practice, or expectation of the Church.

    My view on those aspects of the Church is similar to the apocryphal statement of Abe Lincoln about the Bible–“I read it, and believe what I can, and the rest I take on faith.” A part of my faith with respect to aspects of the Church that trouble me is that those troubling aspects will at some point be “fixed”: either I will come around to accept or believe it, or the Lord, through His human servants, will change or “clarify” the teaching, policy, tradition, practice or expectation.

  39. June 7, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    The big questions seem to be: What can you take and what can you leave? What are doctrines, what are policies, what are opinions, and what are the eternal truths by which we are saved? Sometimes it is hard for me to distinguish between the four in the previous question. I strive to use my God-created intellect and follow the guidance of the Holy Ghost, but sometimes run into things, some considered by many as doctrines, I feel aren’t consistent with the things I feel I KNOW to be true. What do I do? I like the image of piling up the lima beans while my loving Father knows what’s in my heart and hoping that others don’t judge me when they notice the stack.

  40. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    Adam, I get the cut of the comment, namely, that the cafeteria types are picking and choosing and the truly faithful aren’t. And, you’re right, it is a slur. I think the metaphor necessarily backsplashes on those who use it because one has to round out the two poles. It goes something like this: “I’m a cafeteria Catholic/Mormon/etc., you’re a what? A full-menu glutton? A diner that takes his coffee and cake at five, day in, day out, for 20 years? Are you one of the busboys?…” Despite what the radio enthusiasms of my local (and tremendously fat) food critic might otherwise lead me to believe, religion is not a restaurant-experience (even metaphorically). [Unfortunately, those who might bandy the metaphor don’t think it through. They’re more interested in proclaiming their own righteousness]

    Besides, “Cafeteria Mormon” is just a bad sounding name to bandy about. It has lost its alliteration.

    By way of postscript, I am not engaging with Kaimi per se here. Just taking on the general usage.

  41. Adam Greenwood
    June 7, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    “I think the metaphor necessarily backsplashes on those who use it because one has to round out the two poles.”

    No. The accusation isn’t just that they’re picking and choosing but that their picking and choosing shows that they have no more respect for their faith than they do for a cafeteria. So the metaphor does not have two poles. Just cuz some folks treat religion as a cafeteria doesn’t mean others have to. Cafeteria Catholic is good, polemically. And Menu Mormon or whatever would be good, polemically, for us.

  42. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    Adam, If you are eating at a cafeteria (which I’m assuming is supposed to represent in a roundabout way the offerings of a given church), how are you breaking the rules by making a selection? The rules of the cafeteria are, in fact, that you choose among a selection. Those that don’t are breaking the rules. I’ve seen some people try to eat every item at Sizzler or the Hometown Buffet, and I can say categorically that the results are grotesque.

    I suppose a secondary interpretation of the phrase is that the Cafeteria Catholics or whatnot have misidentified the Church as a cafeteria. I think you’d have to say it was more like a restaurant if you wanted to keep any metaphorical consistency. I don’t think that’s an especially respectful image nor do I think faith as a series of menu choices is an especially praiseworthy, inspiring or accurate model. As for rounding poles, our faithful would have to declare, then, what type of eater they were.

    In any case, my problem is with the fundamental thrust of the slur. It really doesn’t enlighten us as to what is bad practice/doxa and what is good. What’s more, it gives one side a false feeling of being good “insert denomination here” because of an outwardly seeming adherence to teaching (itself more partial than they would like to credit) while there engaging in unloving and inciteful behavior. Talk about minimums or fundamentals or whatnot but ditch the cafeteria.

  43. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    P.S. Menu Mormon would apply to whom? The orthodox or the heterodox? My feeling – on analogy with the Mollies – is that it would end up holding to the first.

  44. Randy B.
    June 7, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I’ve been reading Wilford Woodruff’s journal lately. I’m in the period of the 1850s where there is considerable emphasis in getting the members to shape up. The tone of the criticisms are personal and pointed; people are excommunicated, in some instances, for what appears to be little more than using foul language. I’m glad we no longer take that approach, but perhaps the downside of not doing so is greater numbers of “menu mormons.”

    I’d be curious where Frank, Adam, and others fall out here. Is it better to take a hard line approach, knowing that many will be left behind or forced out, or to take a softer, more accepting approach, which may lead some to be less stidently orthodox.

  45. Adam Greenwood
    June 7, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Alethia,
    “If you are eating at a cafeteria (which I’m assuming is supposed to represent in a roundabout way the offerings of a given church), how are you breaking the rules by making a selection? The rules of the cafeteria are, in fact, that you choose among a selection.”

    Exactly. The ‘Cafeteria’ charge says that the heterodox are wrongly treating the Church as if it were a cafeteria. The charge is not that the Church is like a cafeteria but that the heterodox wrongly think they should select items they want. What you see as the secondary interpretation is the primary one.

    Randy B.,

    I don’t know. I think that being a Menu Mormon (grins) is wrong, but so are cussing and not hometeaching. I’m fine with letting the church decide what merits excommunication and what doesn’t.

  46. Adam Greenwood
    June 7, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    “While a person may be divinely called, it doesn’t necessarily follow that every decision they make in that calling will be inspired.”

    While a divinely called person may not be inspired in every decision they make, it does not necessarily follow that we are in any position to judge that.

    It seems that you could say one of two things: inspiration is infallible, so if I recieve inspiration on something that’s contrary to what the prophets have said, its because they didn’t seek inspiration. They just decided to do something without praying about it. Or inspiration is fallible, which means your inspiration that conflicts with the prophets’ inspiration could also be wrong. The question is whether you think the prophets are more or less likely to be wrong than you.

  47. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    “Smorgasbord Saints”? “Luncheonette Latter-day Saints”?

  48. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    “Sushi bar Saints”?

  49. Greg B.
    June 7, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    “While a divinely called person may not be inspired in every decision they make, it does not necessarily follow that we are in any position to judge that.”

    Quite, right. It also does not necessarily follow that we are not in any position to judge…”

    Is it possible that for God’s own mysterious ways you could be inspired to do one thing and others could be inspired to do something else?

  50. Nathan
    June 7, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    What if, even though I don’t like the lima beans, they are actually good for me. I may choose not to eat them, yet for a balanced meal, they may be exactly what I need.

    Perhaps everything on the menu is healthy for us, and it is plausible that the menu is set up in such a way that we could, with enough time, eat it all (I mean, we will eat again, it is a very common for people to eat more than one meal in their life). As is the case, some partake of one item, while others choose to eat another. We choose to eat those items that are most delicious to us, most often. Once in a while, we may decide to try some other items. They may not be to our liking, but they will give us nutrition to live. In fact, it would probably benefit us to have a variety of food to ensure that we have the nutrients we need to lead a full, vibrant life. If I focus (eat) to much on the scriptures and not enough on prayer, I can’t be healthy. Perhaps skipping on the side dishes aren’t going to kill me, but being that they are provided, and healthy, they can only help in balancing a diet.

    The matter at hand then, is that God allows us choice to eat what we may, even where we may, but the true gospel (restauraunt) is set up in such a way that if we eat, and at that, eat wisely and nutritiously, we will be healthy (spiritually speaking, of course!).

    At first I thought Kaimi was way off, but upon expanding this thought, he isn’t too far off after all.

    Thanks Kaimi for the thought.

  51. Adam Greenwood
    June 7, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    “Is it possible that for God’s own mysterious ways you could be inspired to do one thing and others could be inspired to do something else?”

    Seems like it. See, e.g., Nephi and Laban. So if people are claiming they’re the exception to some prophetic counsel, rather than that the counsel is wrong, then this third possibility would be open to them.

  52. Carolyn
    June 7, 2006 at 6:07 pm

    Adam,

    “While a divinely called person may not be inspired in every decision they make, it does not necessarily follow that we are in any position to judge that.”

    In terms of following their counsel with regard to the decisions we make for our own lives, we are absolutely in a position to judge that. In fact we are commanded to do so. The prophets have always commanded us to seek inspiration for ourselves and not to rely solely on their words.

    Listen to the sacrament prayer. The goal for Latter-Day Saints is to become spiritually self-reliant so that they can “always have His Spirit to be with them” and so that the “Holy Ghost will show unto you all things what ye should do.”

    Intermediaries such as prophets can help us, but they are still intermediaries. Our goal is to forge a personal relationship with the Lord. That’s why worthiness becomes so important and that’s why we strive for it, so that we can keep that channel clear.

    We all fall short. That’s why the atonement is built into the plan. But it’s in the striving for that worthiness and for that relationship that we draw closer to God. (The concept that we can have a personal relationship with God, by the way, is one of the most unique and attractive teachings of our faith.)

    “…which means your inspiration that conflicts with the prophets’ inspiration could also be wrong. The question is whether you think the prophets are more or less likely to be wrong than you.”

    It’s not that black and white. Our leaders have acknowledged that they teach the rule and that there are always exceptions. It’s quite possible that the general counsel given from the pulpit is inspired and that the direction I receive from the Spirit for my personal circumstances is also inspired. It’s not an either/or situation.

    Ultimately I am the only one who will have to answer for the choices I make in my life. Will I be wrong? Will I make mistakes? Most definitely. In fact, I’m counting on it. It’s through my mistakes that I will grow. It’s through my mistakes that I will learn to recognize the Spirit. That’s what I’m here on earth to learn.

    If you are putting someone else’s revelation, even a prophet’s, ahead of your own personal revelation, I would submit that you are going in the wrong direction. You are also depriving yourself of an opportunity to draw closer to God.

  53. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    Adam, I don’t think you can stop the metaphorical bleed with the cafeteria analogy. Just witness the other posts on this board – even #51 above – where contributors are trying to define their own faith practices in terms of the restaurant and its menu. As with most extended metaphors, such descriptions are quick to show their strain. Because this metaphor doesn’t strike me as particularly rich (you can’t move from the Sun King to the cosmos here), I think they show their strain more quickly than they otherwise would. Besides, you can’t insulate the metaphor from being turned back against its original users just because you want to. The metaphor is insulting and insults turn back, often in the same terms. Just look at the dozens: “You’re momma is a…”. “Well, your mother is a…”

    As for the polemical value of the term: If one is looking to propagate the acrimony and heatedness of polemic, I’d say this is a good-term to use. If it’s meant to be a call to self-reflection, mild-correction, conversation-starter, or anything besides, it’s a bad choice. Given the sensitivities on Times and Seasons (and the sensitivities of the religious in general), I am surprised that there would be anything like acquiescence to the use of insult in policing the borders of Mormon orthodoxy. This sort of complacence is all too common. If we really thought that these sorts of names were a force for good, we’d be more willing to name the vices of orthodoxy that threaten it from within and not take umbrage (We’re only talking, right?). I nominate and propose for christening spiritually-dead cradle-to-gravers, religious luddites, mindnumbing literalists, aspirers to General Authority, pseudo-prophets, and religious policeman.

  54. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    Kimball, Smorgasborg Saint sounds nice for what it is. Provides alliteration and a nice allusion to the ancestry of so many Saints.

  55. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    June 7, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    I thought these were relevant, and perhaps could give something to chew on (haha) relative to what might be on the table (ha again).

    “There are some of our members who practice selective obedience. A prophet is not one who displays a smorgasbord of truth from which we are free to pick and choose. However, some members become critical and suggest the prophet should change the menu. A prophet doesn’t take a poll to see which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. He reveals the will of the Lord to us. The world is full of deteriorating churches who have succumbed to public opinion and have become more dedicated to tickling the ears of their members than obeying the laws of God.”
    Glenn L. Pace, “Follow the Prophet,� Ensign, May 1989, 25

    “You cannot approach the gospel as you would a buffet or smorgasbord, choosing here a little and there a little. You must sit down to the whole feast and live the Lord’s loving commandments in their fullness.”
    Joseph B. Wirthlin, “It’s Your Choice,� Liahona, Nov. 1998, 46

  56. Nathan
    June 7, 2006 at 7:19 pm

    Nice pick of quotes m&m.

    But you will still have people who reject what is said, saying “free agency!” or something like that.

    I think the discussion is based upon what Glenn L Pace said in that first sentance.

    “There are some of our members who practice selective obedience.”

    There are people who will selectively feast. If they don’t like the items, they will say, “this can’t be good because I don’t like it”. I think people are making justifications for not eating everything on their gospel plate.

    Happens all the time.

  57. Adam Greenwood
    June 7, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    “If you are putting someone else’s revelation, even a prophet’s, ahead of your own personal revelation, I would submit that you are going in the wrong direction. You are also depriving yourself of an opportunity to draw closer to God.”

    Carolyn, I would submit that I’ve recieved personal revelation respecting the prophet’s personal revelation, which is part of the reason I’m a Mormon. I’ve also recieved personal revelation respecting the limits of personal revelation–we’re not just protestants and the church and its authority and its hierarchy aren’t just a convenience. Finally, for what its worth, I’ve always considered it contrary to Mormonism to think of the purpose of life as drawing closer to God. We’re supposed to draw closer to everyone and everything. God in particular, of course, but also his servants in particular.

    Also, I do not believe that the necessity of seeking our own inspiration with respect to the inspiration of the Prophets’ means that our inspiration is superior to theirs and we should always go with what we think we’ve found out. That’s one interpretation of it, but there are others.

  58. Adam Greenwood
    June 7, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    Aletheia,

    I’m not responsible for how you and others use or misuse the metaphor. My point simply is that, as normally used, it isn’t a self-contradictory or boomeranging metaphor like you think it is.

    Also, polemic isn’t exactly the same as insult and has more purposes than you suggest. To the extent that you would apply terms like ‘religious luddites’ to behaviors that were in fact wrong, it might be appropriate from time to time. But its all abstract anyway–Kaimi isn’t really calling people Menu Mormons. In fact, in some odd way he’s actually trying to embrace the term.

  59. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    Hey, Adam, we can agree to disagree. I think the metaphor is more slippery, normal usage or not. You don’t. Enough said.

    Never said that polemic equalled insult. I said that this metaphor is insulting and could only lead to acrimonious polemic if bandied about (I’d be interested in knowing how many would actually call someone a Menu Mormon or Cafeteria Catholic face to face). But, I agree, Kaimi is trying to use the instance of the metaphor as an entree into other things.

  60. June 7, 2006 at 8:23 pm

    re 55, plus it has the term “borg” embedded in it, which will satisfy numerous ex and antimos.

  61. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    John, I had to laugh at your powers of word division. Instead of the Collective, though, it made me think of 7 of 9. But, maybe all Smorgasborg Saints are sexy (and I’d like to see the handing-out of those smart and snazzy suits).

  62. Kaimi Wenger
    June 7, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Wow, there are a ton of comments to respond to. I guess we know what to blog about from now on — food metaphors!

    Let’s see.

    Several people, several, have suggested that the analogy is inappropriate because it doesn’t matter if something is tasty; what matters is that it’s true.

    I disagree. If we want things that are true in some way, it’s because we have a taste for that kind of truth. There are a lot of things that are true, and we don’t arrange our lives by most of them. It’s true that I will be healthier if I eat more brocolli and less cheese. My decision to act on this — or any other number of true facts — depends on my own preferences, and what kinds of things satisfy me, physically or spiritually or emotionally. So it’s not about being true — it’s about satisfying some need of each individual.

    Okay, a few individual responses:

    Sue (#1): Yes and no, I guess. When you see smelly stuff coming out of the kitchen, it can be from several causes. (This is an interesting enough idea, that I may post separately on it.)

    LQ (#4): It sounds like you had a bad babysitter experience! But there’s something to the idea that the church — or at least, its members on the ground level — sometimes feel a need to force-feed others.

    MB (#5): Interesting idea; it may have some traction. I think it goes into the future post.

    Alethia (#7): “We all pick and choose.” Well, yes and no. We all pick and choose to some degree. I think that making a conscious decision to reject part of the menu may be a substantively different option than making choices within the menu, though. Perhaps it’s the difference between two people who order the Chicken Cacciatori and the Chicken Parmaggiana, both on menu, versus the third person who asks for something not on the menu at all.

    Mark (#8): That idea resonates with me — we can’t do everything. Still, I think that to some degree, saying “I’m a Mormon who emphasizes missionary work” and “I’m a Mormon who emphasizes temple work” are both menu choices. Saying “I’m a Mormon who ejects the historicity of the Book of Mormon” or “I’m a Mormon who thinks polygamy was not an inspired doctrine” are not.

    Mike (#9): No real purpose, just kicking an idea around. It’s true that the leadership likes everyone to stay on menu. But when there’s high enough demand for a new dish, most restaurants oblige the diners.

    Crystal (#11): “this is the best resturant in town, I love the entree, and maybe someday, my taste buds will change enough that I can at least entertain the thought of clearing my plate.” Well said.

    Anneli (#12): Very insightful comment. I like both the idea of the line-chef, and the lines “it still makes sense to determine what is truth and what is not. And sometimes choking down the lima beans when you aren\’t sure whether they are meant to be a part of the meal or not.”

    14&15 — see 17, great comments, both.

    Frank (#17): See above, on truth. We don’t change our lives around all true things, but around the true things that satisfy us in some way. It _is_ all about taste. Isn’t this what you teach kids in Econ 101? That Mother Theresa isn’t really compassionate, she just has a utility curve that gives her satisfaction for some kinds of acts. Same theory here. No one does anything because of abstract truth — people do things that bring them utility.

    Dad (#19): Hey, I wasn’t that bad, was I? :) Great comment, and I agree. It’s absolutely true that we should eat some things, whether or not we like them. I should eat brocolli, because it’s healthy, even if I hate it. But there are some things that some people eat for pleasure — Yorkshire pudding — that there’s really no good reason to eat, unless you actually like them. The tough part is telling the difference between the two.

    Julie (21): I really like your thoughts on the core menu. And “rubber hits the roadkill” had me laughing out loud and going to tell Mardell about it.

  63. Mark Butler
    June 7, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    Agency – in the gospel sense is not identical to free will. In fact technically “free agency” as a term is redundant – agency without some degree of liberty is meaningless. Agency is liberty granted within the context of some stewardship and within the bounds of law and direction.

    It is impossible for God to grant us our will, but he did grant us our stewardships – over our own bodies, lives, families, callings, etc. If we take away the fact of stewardship, i.e. the duty we our to the grantee or the party we represent, agency is nothing but license – no duty or obligation at all.

    This is where the liberal model breaks down – many liberals do not believe they *owe* God, family, country, culture, civilization *anything* – it is take the inheritance and run, or stomp it underfoot. At minimum a compliance with the most basic laws, not to lie steal or cheat, but certainly not an affirmative obligation to serve, honor, or (horror of horrors) obey. History, tradition, etc. is dirt – the blood sweat and tears of previous generations are inconsequential, and so is everything they believed. No duty of cultural self preservation of loyalty or maintenance of what their forebears fought for – just re-create society in their own image, when ever they feel like it.

    Agency is not like that.

  64. Kaimi Wenger
    June 7, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    J (23): Not a bad analogy, either. We’re in broad agreement about the priorities — that makes sense, since I cite you as one of my lima-bean pilers in the original post.

    25-27: See my response to #7 above — I think there’s a substantive difference.

    29: Another good thought on how to differentiate entrees from extras.

    30: Carolyn, same theme as others have focused on. I like your thoughts — and agree, there isn’t in many instances the recognition of the differences between menu items.

    32: Nice, Serenity. Nice idea. Maybe it’s not all taste and preference — maybe there are real allergies involved, and what then?

    34: “the Lord will always bless us for being obedient–He will always bless us for plugging our noses and swallowing the lima beans, if that is what we have been counselled to do.” I don’t know if I agree with it, 100% — but it’s a well-stated articulation of an approach that makes sense.

    35: I’m not saying it’s a perfect metaphor, just one that helped me think about the issues a little, and seems to have helped some of our commenters. But hey, I’m by nature inclined to like discussions of food. :P

    36: There’s a storied history of adapting slurs, Adam. See, e.g., Yankee Doodle.

    37: I like this idea, It’s the natural counter to Keryn’s argument.

    Starting to run out of commenting energy here. Time to go have some lima beans . . .

  65. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    Oh and “A la carte LDS,” of course. Along with Menu Mo’s.

    Any more nominations? Or should the nominations close?

  66. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    ‘Tho people always pick ‘n’ choose to some degree, this tendency isn’t truly what having a non-ideosyncratic religion is all about. Having a faith is taking it whole.

    Or so I’ve heard and like to think. ‘Specially since I’m wholely (Which is spelt /wholly/, right?) at the most ideosyncratic -est point of the spectrum.

  67. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    The deli devout. The choosily churched. The haute cuisine holy.

    Bistro Brighamites? Um . . . Der Hauf Brau H-holy B-brighamites? Of course, these won’t work, since les frenc,ois und Der Deutch drink wit der fast food.

  68. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    And ditto for wine & cheese tasting ward members?

  69. June 7, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    The problem is that if you find a fly in your soup you cannot tell the chef. He seems to have the bad habit of tossing out people who are bothered by what is offered, even if they like all of the rest.

  70. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    Or how about “Shall I take the-Jell-O-or-the-funeral-potatoes?”-asking Church of Jesus Christ members?

  71. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    He’s a regular “soup Nazi,” hughm? lol. (The Seinfeld episode)

  72. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 10:02 pm

    Kimball, I really don’t get what the “taking it whole” spiel means. I know for myself there is a creed, a whole slew of canonical books, Church Fathers, a general “tradition”, a national religious culture, a set of professional ethics, etc. that I have to deal with if I’m going to talk about practicing a faith. All these interact in non-simple ways. This is where the menu model of doctrine and practice seems weakest for me and, I think, for Mormonism with its own array of texts and diversity of practices.

    What’s more, besides admonitions to act in certain ways (and doctrines to believe), I have prohibitions (probably buried somewhere in canon law). Some of these are not transcendent but are lines you wouldn’t normally cross. For example, Catholics would be happy to give me communion but, given our history (and the sometimes condition that one recognize papal supremacy along Rome’s line of interpretation), it’s not something I would do. As far as doctrine, there are important tenets and articles of belief and less important or indifferent ones. I remember asking my priest during catechism if I really had to believe that St. Nektarios levitated to belong. The answer was in the negative. It’s unimportant.

    All to say that I think one of the reasons why the cafeteria/food metaphors are so popular across denominations is that defining the fundamentals explicitly- without this, you’re not – can be a hot potato. My impression is that in this context if you were to prescribe positions – dear to the hearts of some – on the nature of inspiration, proper relation to authority, BofM historicity, Church-State relations, on and on here on this board, you’d be opening yourself to long polemics (and the board has provided space for these over and over, I know). Others would gain quick assent, be closer to universally recognized. But, it’s easier to be categorical and assertive when you’re metaphorizing through food.

  73. aletheia
    June 7, 2006 at 10:03 pm

    Man, Kimball, you’re sure having fun with this. Like the “choosily churched”.

  74. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 7, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    What I’m referring to, I think, Aleyth, is what, according to my reading of him, Mark Butler is really taking umbrage against in his critique of ersatz mysticism — that is, those who CONSIDER themselves mystics but who are really just picking and choosing within whatever faith traditions or combination thereof to fashion their own belief system ‘n’ so therefore not taking any one in its entirety — sorta “en situ” or something. (Such as, of course, say some New Agers who call themselves “Taoist” while making up their beliefs on the fly.

    Which is still perfectly fine, of course — but most definately is NOT something that would give an outsider any real perception into the actual validity and depth of the genuine religious tradition bein’ picked ‘n’ chosen from.

  75. Mark Butler
    June 8, 2006 at 12:10 am

    Kimball, I did not intend to refer Taoism or irrational mysticism here. If one can construct a ersatz religion that is at least moderately *prescriptive*, instead of being capable of being used as an a posteriori justification for any action, that is a good thing.

    I meant to refer to the classical critique of “cafeteria religion” as a version of “if it feels good, do it, otherwise don’t stress, man” – or in more formal terms religion as personal utilitarianism – “whatever makes you happy, dear” – a radically indivualistic utilitarianism that is prominent in many liberal analysis of social obligation (or rather the lack thereof) in a free society. You see the problem with doctrinaire liberalism is that it lacks a soul – instead it is a clay out of which anything can be constructed, with no ideals for truth, goodness, or beauty except symmetry, chaos, and anarchy.

    A historical etymology of the term *agency* would be very interesting – whatever the case may be the idea that agency is a synonym for free will, as so many assume without further reflection, is unmerited. A derivation from the legal concept of agency (even self-agency, as in “agents unto themselves” in D&C 58) is much more likely.

    Can one will unto oneself? No. Self-agency is self stewardship.

  76. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 8, 2006 at 9:37 am

    (Sorry Mark: I meant the anti- mysticism you’ve expressed in other threads. Smiles.)

  77. Adam Greenwood
    June 8, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    “There are a lot of things that are true, and we don’t arrange our lives by most of them. It’s true that I will be healthier if I eat more brocolli and less cheese. My decision to act on this — or any other number of true facts — depends on my own preferences, and what kinds of things satisfy me, physically or spiritually or emotionally. So it’s not about being true — it’s about satisfying some need of each individual.”

    You are ceding a lot of ground here. In our most recent kerfluffle about people claiming to be good church members while opposing what the church is doing–the whole Marriage Amendment thing–hardly anyone took the position that the church’s position was true but that they weren’t going along with it because it didn’t really jazz them up. But maybe this is intentional on your part. Maybe you agree that the *truth* of the church is a whole package, take it or leave it, but you’re making a point that to what extent we’re enthusiastic about or wholly committed to various parts of the package will depend on our interests, our talents, and so on.

  78. aletheia
    June 8, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Re #78. I searched the board looking for the quotation’s origin and couldn’t find it. Is this a general comment or a directed one (at me, I’m guessing)?

  79. Adam Greenwood
    June 8, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    Aletheia,
    Its Kaimi W., #63.

  80. aletheia
    June 8, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks, Adam

  81. Carolyn
    June 8, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    “Finally, for what its worth, I’ve always considered it contrary to Mormonism to think of the purpose of life as drawing closer to God. We’re supposed to draw closer to everyone and everything. God in particular, of course, but also his servants in particular.”

    Adam, I’m not sure I agree with this. The Saviour said that the FIRST and greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, might, mind and strength and that the SECOND was to love your neighbour. How is this contrary to Mormonism?

  82. DavidH
    June 8, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    I wonder if part of the reason our Churchwide activity rates are so low, and the “lost address” file so large, is because we often present an unyielding “either/or” position, and roundly condemn “selective obedience” or “selective belief.” In some ways, I believe in and practice both of them.

    If one of the nonattending families I visit told me, “We’d like to start attending sacrament meeting only; we cannot stand Sunday School or Relief Society/Priesthood,” I suppose I could say, “Don’t bother coming if you will not stay the entire 3 hours. We do not believe in selective obedience. And fact is, don’t bother coming if you aren’t planning to contribute a full tithe in the near future. And, even if you may tithe, if you have any doubts about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, or of the counsel to avoid body piercing, or the recent First Presidency statement on the Marriage Protection Amendment, you should stay home. We do not believe in or foster ‘cafeteria’ or ‘smorgasboard’ religion in our Church.”

    Perhaps I misunderstand the gospel, but I would say, “Please come, and stay as long as you would like. Come, whether you believe or not, whether you smoke or not, whether you are angry at the Brethren, or angry at God, or not, whether you are chaste or not. Just come and participate. It can be to your benefit. And, by and large, it will be to the benefit of the rest of the Body of Christ (at least as long as we don’t chase you off by shaming you or laying a guilt trip on you.) ”

    At the end of the day, I do believe that God asks our complete submission to His will. But, in the meantime, I believe He rejoices with each choice we make to be closer to Him, to repent, to recover, and to implement His will. And I am not even sure that He cares if we put off eating our vegetables until very last, or even many sittings later. More than one of the Brethren has preached that direction is more important than position (or speed).

  83. Adam Greenwood
    June 8, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    Carolyn,
    I’m talking about ultimate ends. I’m saying that the same sociality that exists among us now will exist in the heavens. I’m saying that we cannot really separate drawing closer to God from drawing closer to our neighbor, as our neighbor may well be a co-heir with Christ to everything God has and is.

  84. greenfrog
    June 8, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    I’m saying that we cannot really separate drawing closer to God from drawing closer to our neighbor, as our neighbor may well be a co-heir with Christ to everything God has and is.

    This doctrine tastes good to me.

  85. Adam Greenwood
    June 9, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    “I wonder if part of the reason our Churchwide activity rates are so low, and the “lost addressâ€? file so large, is because we often present an unyielding “either/orâ€? position, and roundly condemn “selective obedienceâ€? or “selective belief.â€? In some ways, I believe in and practice both of them.

    If one of the nonattending families I visit told me, “We’d like to start attending sacrament meeting only; we cannot stand Sunday School or Relief Society/Priesthood,â€? I suppose I could say, “Don’t bother coming if you will not stay the entire 3 hours. We do not believe in selective obedience.”

    You’re confusing two radically different propositions here. The first is that selective obedience or selective belief is wrong. The second is that people who obey selectively or who believe selectively should just stop obeying or believing altogether. The first proposition is right, the second is wrong. Your excellent that the first proposition is wrong do not support your assertion that the first is right also.

    By the way, you should check out the sociology of Rod Stark. He concludes that faiths that demand a lot more commitment do better than their more live-and-let-live brethren.

  86. left the diner
    July 8, 2006 at 2:14 am

    The food metaphor always brings this to my mind: If what you crave is a nice caesar salad but hate all foods Italian from pasta to chicken parmesan, don\’t go to the Olive Garden for their main dishes are all Italian. Instead, leave and find a place that has the salad you enjoy and the main course that you can stomach.

    In religion just as in dining one has a choice. I feasted on the lds menu. One day a case of food poisoning prompted greater examination of the nutritional content. I fully understand the popularity of the restaurant and it did sustain me for years. Though there are some side dishes and desserts that I miss, those do not sustain my life and it was time to move on. There are some who will hang out at a restaurant for the atmosphere. For me if the main course options poison instead of nourish me, I\’m leaving. We all have choices.

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