Institutionalized Lying

Currently I serve as the Primary chorister in my ward. (Call it the curse of anyone who can sing and direct music.) The assigned song for March was “Follow the Prophet.” In case you’re not familiar with the song, it was written so that children around the world can mumble through the 400 verses, followed by yelling out the chorus at the top of their lungs.

One verse is about Jonah, as in the guy with the great fish problem. It has this line in it:

When we really try the Lord won’t let us fail.

I had long forgotten this verse until last month. To be completely honest, I felt terrible teaching this verse to the kids. It’s patently untrue. It’s bogus. It’s a setup for all sorts of future disillusionment.

Why do we do this to our children?

[Note: As originally posted the song line read, “If we do what’s right the Lord won’t let us fail.” As  noted in comment #19, that was late corrected.]

108 comments for “Institutionalized Lying

  1. April 12, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I recommend that the Jonah verse be replaced as follows:

    Jonah was a prophet, swallowed by a whale.
    When he was on board, the ship just couldn’t sail.
    So they tossed him over, next thing that he knew,
    Nineveh repented, Jonah had to, too.

    Swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet, won’t get away;
    Swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet, swallow the prophet; he’ll find the way.

    (See )

  2. April 12, 2010 at 10:54 am

    But more seriously, this is exactly right. A friend of mine criticizes this as the vending-machine version of God. You put in a few coins, and God is guaranteed to deliver just the soda you asked for. I think it’s very problematic, and seems to set people up to fail. And yes, we often teach it early in life.

    On the flip side, some scripture — especially D&C 82:10 — seems to endorse the vending-machine view of God. I’m not quite sure how to reconcile that.

  3. April 12, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Of course it is simplistic, but the scriptures are full of similar statements. If we’re going to junk everything that isn’t fully footnoted and fine-printed, we’re throwing out most of our holy texts.

  4. Sean
    April 12, 2010 at 10:59 am

    I’m with Adam. I also think there are deeper meanings to be found.

  5. Bro. Jones
    April 12, 2010 at 11:00 am

    #2 As you say, I’m not sure what the alternative to teach children is. That said, one of my 7-year-olds in Primary once asked, “Is it ok to be angry with God sometimes?” (She had a debilitating and, I believe, terminal illness.) The class then had a pretty nuanced discussion about what we expect from God versus what He actually delivers. So it’s not like young children are completely incapable of processing that life isn’t fair, or hearing a mixed message which admits to its ambiguity.

  6. April 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Seeing the title of the post, I was afraid it was on politics — I’m relieved it’s just a Primary problem. I’d suggest making it a discussion question: “Kids, does the Lord ever let us fail?” I’m sure there are kind and decent Primary kids who would be relieved to know that failing a spelling test (or worse) doesn’t mean the Lord has let them down.

  7. Christine
    April 12, 2010 at 11:20 am

    I suspect that you just need to see the bigger picture for this statement to make sense. This life isn’t all that there is.

  8. Rob
    April 12, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Christine is right. If we do what’s right, ultimately God will not fail us – if think in context of the eternities. I think that’s a fine lesson to teach our children.

  9. Mark B.
    April 12, 2010 at 11:28 am

    You just have to define “fail” correctly.

  10. April 12, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Yep, I’m with comments #7-9.

  11. Matthew
    April 12, 2010 at 11:37 am

    I think Alison is right on with this. The text as it stands is highly likely to create misunderstandings. Songs come and go all the time (Remember Give Said the Little Stream)? I would be careful about it, but changing a song to be more clear or in better harmony with Church teachings seems fine to me. At the very least, I would follow up with specific teachings to make sure the lyric is well-understood.

    I think the real ‘deal’ we get with God is that if we put our faith in Him, whatever happens will be in our ultimate best interests. That is very likely to involve lots of tactical failure, but still end up being in our best interests.

  12. kew
    April 12, 2010 at 11:37 am

    The link you gave to the song says “When we really try, the Lord won’t let us fail”. Interestingly, that doesn’t address the issue of right/wrong, and opens up the sentiment that whenever something I want doesn’t happen it is because I didn’t try hard enough.

  13. DavidH
    April 12, 2010 at 11:38 am

    I favor bagging the song entirely. Many people think that Mormons are blindly obedient (and many Mormons think that we should be) and many think that this attitude is “brainwashed” into children at a young age. Exhibit A is this song.

  14. Dan
    April 12, 2010 at 11:39 am

    I’m with comments #7,9, and 10

  15. Ben S
    April 12, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I’m with Mark B., in that it depends on how we define “fail.” On the other hand, primary children aren’t exactly known for their careful nuanced close-reading exegesis of primary songs.

  16. April 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    I think the lyric is fine as long as one considers the eternities part of the equation.

    Also, it could be seen as a 1 Nephi 3:7 kind of line …

    Of course the Nephi story this verse is associated with has nuance to it. Nephi was allowed to fail a few times but he was persistent … and he ultimately succeeded.

  17. Mike S
    April 12, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    When I saw the title, I thought the post was going to be about illegal aliens being covertly sent on officially-sanctioned missions by the Church.

    When I saw it was about this song, I realized it was different. I’m in Primary. I hate this song, yet we seem to work on it all the time. I think it inspires a type of “prophet-worship” as an infallible person that only sets kids up for major disillusionment when they realize that prophets are men like us, with their own failings and times when they are wrong too.

  18. April 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I feel the same way about “The Family is of God.” It paints this picture of the family all the kids are supposed to have and none of them do. What does that accomplish except for making them think there’s something wrong with their family? We need to teach them that families come in lots of different forms and are about loving and helping each other, not about a particular familial structure with set roles.

  19. April 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    #12 Thank you. I wrote in haste as I was running out the door for an appointment. I’ve corrected the post.

    The problem with trying to “define ‘fail’ correctly” is that the context is already give. Jonah didn’t want to go to Ninevah and was afraid of the wicked people, but if he just “tries” he will succeed. There is no context in this verse that says “if Jonah just tries to go to Ninevah he will have eternal glory.”

    To be clear, the song gives zero reference to eternity and 100% to someone who tried to avoid doing what he was told and later did it. Now. In this life.

  20. Chris
    April 12, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I also agree with #7, 9, and #10. If we look at life with an eternal perspective, God will not let us fail. With Him, all things are possible. That does not mean that we won’t experience great adversity in this life but that God will carry us through our trials as we trust in Him. Children have great faith and understand this simple truth. One of the blessings of serving in Primary is that children’s faith is pure and simple. We can learn a lot from them.

  21. Manuel
    April 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    I don’t know about the failing thing, but I just wanted to say I think Kaimi Wenger’s version is genious! I’ll be for sure singing this in the shower.

  22. April 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Regardless of the nuances of the song, isn’t “Institutionalized Lying” a little strong?

  23. April 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Srong? Yes. Inaccurate? I don’t think so.

  24. Anon
    April 12, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    #17 re: prophet-worship

    As far as I can tell, this attitude was (and continues to be) emphasized by wife’s parents as a necessary part of being a “good Mormon.” They even extend it to stake presidents and bishops. Recent questionable decisions by some local leaders have led my wife and some of her siblings to an internal conflict/crisis and they now feel like they have been deceived because they no longer feel that these leaders are the infallible beings they once believed them to be.

    I’m not sure the song in question should be totally scrapped, but we should be careful about the things we teach and attitudes we portray.

  25. April 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts, everyone. I have a few minutes so I’ll try to address some of the comments.

    Kaimi, thanks for the ingenious verse. As for how to reconcile “vending machine scriptures,” I think the only way to do it is the way people suggest here, with eternal perspective. Which is certainly true in some cases, but becomes something of a crutch, in many others.

    Your patriarchal blessing says you will marry and have children? You’ve never been proposed to? You are infertile? You got hit by a truck on your mission? Well, it meant that you’ll marry and have children IN THE ETERNITIES.

    The prophet/scriptures/blessing said X, but X didn’t happen/isn’t true — it just means it will happen IN THE ETERNITIES.

    What’s the point of giving counsel that only applies to eternity — with the implication that it applies now?

    But this verse — and far too many things I was taught in church/seminary — isn’t about eternity. It’s about Jonah’s fear and disobedience ON EARTH. You can only turn this verse into a lesson on eternal reward by a huge stretch of the imagination.

    Entire verse for reference:

    Jonah was a prophet, tried to run away,
    But he later learned to listen and obey.
    When we really try the Lord won’t let us fail:
    That’s what Jonah learned deep down inside the whale.

    #3 Adam, it’s not just simplistic, it’s incorrect. There is no doctrine in our church that says that if we try the Lord will prevent failure. I don’t even know what the doctrine of “really try” could mean. My incorrect version “if we do what’s right” at least has some eternal, religious context.

    #5 Bro. Jones, love the story about your class. I think the alternative is to teach what is true and what we know. For example, if we make our best effort, God knows it and can make up for what we cannot do eternally. Or, if we choose the right, God is pleased. Or trying to do what’s right helps us become more like Christ. Or that if we disobey God, he isn’t happy and may let a whale eat us alive.

    #6 Dave, I agree that’s a great approach. I always talk to the kids about the songs, but this song is so long and we have so many assigned songs every year (and only 15 minutes each week) that it’s hard to take much time for good discussion. To be honest, I told them the story of Jonah (I have a little story action thing I do with them sometimes) and then just hoped they wouldn’t notice the dumb line. Cowardly, I know.

    Another appointment. Back later.

  26. Alex
    April 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Speaking of church songs with dubious lyrics:
    “There’s a right and a wrong to every question”
    always rubs me the wrong way.

  27. Mark B.
    April 12, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Why Alex? Just because it’s not true doesn’t mean it can’t be trite.

  28. April 12, 2010 at 2:16 pm


    I was glad you reprinted the entire verse for reference. Before I got to your comment I looked it up. Although I have issues with the “happily-ever-after” connotation of the third line, my real issue is in the fouth. Jonah never did “get it” and this verse suggests he did — while he was in the whale!

    What Jonah learned in the whale is if the Lord wants you in Ninevah, He has the power to put you there whether you want to be there or not. Even after he arrived, Jonah didn’t want to be there. (I liked Kaimi’s rewrite, too.)

    It’s unfortunate that this verse is even in the song, and if I ever get my dream come true and get to be Primary chorister (I did for six weeks after begin released as bishop a number of years ago, but then had to go do something with adults…), I would probably not use this verse.

    That said, I would not call this institutional lying, but exceptionally poor proofreading on the part of the publishers. They’ve misread the story and taken a moral out of it that just isn’t there.

    On the matter of not failing — Nephi had that faith that if he had a specific assignment from God, then God would make it possible (1 Nephi 3:7). That’s far more aligned with the third line than the story of Jonah. And I agree with you — just because we try something does not mean we will succeed no matter how righteous we are, unless we can tell the mind and will of the Lord ahead of time. Life’s lessons are learned by scraping our knees on the gravel of failure from time to time.

    I am sorry you seem not to enjoy your chance to lead singing in Primary. I’d trade with you in an instant.

  29. April 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    There are so many lyrics that aren’t quite right that I notice every Sunday when I play the piano in the Primary. I always wince at the song that talks about Jesus being a meek child who never cried or fought . . . how do we know that? I actually don’t believe that and I think it puts the kids in a spot that could make them feel like they can never measure up. Anyway. Good point.

  30. April 12, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I don’t object to the “won’t let us fail” part nearly as much as the “swallowed by the whale” part. The Old Testament says it was a “big fish.” Why perpetuate the whale myth to our unsuspecting primary children?

    No, on second thought, I object to the whole song. My primary is doing that one in singing practice right now, and those verses just go on forever. It’s the worst kind of doggerel. But it’s still not as bad as the “cowboys and injuns”-tomahawk-chop-beat of “Book of Mormon Stories,” another children’s song with interminable verses.

  31. Zen
    April 12, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    In the Old Testament, there is a spot where pi is shown to be 3. And while some people criticize that, is that any more wrong that rounding it to 3.14159 ? Both are fundamentally wrong. The question is, are they right enough for what we need. The Israelites did not need to be introduced to the finer points of irrational and transcendental numbers in order to build what they were told to.

    God is not ashamed to make appropriate approximations.

    Now, perhaps, we could demand more of children, but that is a different question entirely. IMHO.

  32. Steve
    April 12, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    This song is really horrid.

    It is repetitive to the point of being cultish.

    Its directive to “Follow the Prophet. He Knows the Way.” is pretty spooky. It implies that every prophet has been flawless. Simply not true:

    * Moses’ disobedience which kept him from the promised land.

    * Jonah’s refusal to go to Nineveh.

    * Joshua’s brutality in Canaan.

    * Joseph Smith’s financial disasters

    * Brigham Young’s racism and Adam God theory.

    * Joseph F. Smith’s hostility to science.

    Modern prophets do have a role in communicating between deity and the Saints. But, this song teaches do whatever a prophet says because he is always right.

    Instead, the message should be listen and approach the Lord about the Prophet’s words.

    This song should be sent to the round file — permenently.

  33. April 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    It’s even worse, Alison.

    The statement,

    “When we really try the Lord won’t let us fail: That’s what Jonah learned deep down inside the whale.”

    Is actually the _opposite_ of what the Jonah story teaches.

    Jonah did really try. He really tried to *flee*. The Lord not only didn’t let that try not-fail, he actively caused Jonah’s flight attempt to fail.

    Jonah was *not* “really try[ing]” to go to Ninevah to preach. He was doing the *opposite*.

    A more accurate summary would be: “If we try really hard to avoid a commandment, the Lord may force us to do it anyway.”

  34. April 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    There’s another problem with that verse, but it’s getting too big for a comment, I may post it as a follow up post.

  35. April 12, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Alison (#23): Srong? Yes. Inaccurate? I don’t think so.

    By the standard you are using then you must also think God is a liar. (See D&C 19)

    I guess you wouldn’t be the first person to blatantly accuse God of being a liar, but I agree with Ardis that it is both too strong and inaccurate to do so.

  36. Jim Donaldson
    April 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    “There’s a right and a wrong to every question”

    We just sang that in Seminary this morning. Total cringe.

    But remember the old saw: Things which are too stupid to say are often sung. There are lots of howlers in the hymn lyrics.

  37. Eric Russell
    April 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    It would appear that our entire primary program is built on a foundation of lies and deceit. Consider the following:

    Little streams don’t talk.
    You won’t find popcorn on an apricot tree.
    You shouldn’t always do as the person next to you is doing.
    Pioneer children took a breather and stopped singing sometimes, even as they kept walking.

  38. jks
    April 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    The song has so many verses, why on earth would you teach one you hated rather than skipping it? I was in primary for years. NO ONE can teach all those verses.

  39. jks
    April 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    #29 Michelle
    Funny. Two of my kids were having major problems fighting. I tried lots of things. What had worked for my oldest two wasn’t working for them. I believe what finally worked was getting them to make conscious decisions on an hourly basis to act like Jesus.
    Thank goodness I wasn’t so concerned for their self esteem and them feeling like they didn’t measure up. Because they DIDN”T measure up to what brothers and sisters should act like to each other. I had serious concerns about their long term relationship.
    I care more about them BEING a good person than them FEELING like they are a good person.

  40. Lupita
    April 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    #37 LOL

    Just as stomping your feet isn’t necessarily the best response when one finds themselves both happy and knowing it.

  41. Lupita
    April 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    one finds oneself, I should say

  42. April 12, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I can’t comment individually, but I really do appreciate all the feedback.

    I agree very much with Matthew #11 “The text as it stands is highly likely to create misunderstandings.”

    #28 Paul, you make a great point. Jonah never did want to do the will of the Lord and even after the Ninevites repented, he wanted them destroyed. So, you’re right, the lesson he seems to have learned was that God wins in the end.

    BTD Greg, the whale tends to annoy me, too, but the New Testament does call it a whale (Matt. 12: 40), so I figure I can give it a pass. :)

    #31 Zen:

    God is not ashamed to make appropriate approximations.

    While I agree, I don’t think this line fits that description.

    #33 Kaimi, spot on. I look forward to your followup.

    #35 Geoff J (and Ardis), it seems I don’t have the language hang up the two of you do. “Lying” is a perfectly good word (to me) when used correctly. My dictionary definition for lying includes: fabrication; falseness; white lies; falsity; invention; duplicity; misrepresentation; mendacity.

    Paul wants to call it “exceptionally poor proofreading.” While I agree, I think that ignores that someone WROTE it before the proofreaders came along. Many of the appropriate definitions of “lying” don’t assume motive. The author doesn’t have to be evil incarnate to lie. Technically, intent isn’t even relevant.

    While I’d agree that with lying we generally assume *intent* to deceive, I also assume that the author actually thought about the words before entering them. So either s/he didn’t have a problem with the inaccuracy or didn’t realize it was misrepresenting doctrine or never considered what doctrine was. So, I’m fine with a rewrite of the title to:

    Institutionalized Lying and/or Stupidity and/or Utter Carelessness In Teaching Children and/or Being More Concerned with Rhyme Patter than Actual Content

    As for D&C 19, you’ll have to specify which verse(s) you are referring to. But if God actually said something that was false and duplicitous, yes, I’d say he was, be definition, a liar. I don’t happen to have any evidence of that, but the word means what it means.

    #37 So, Eric, are you suggesting that this verse is merely personification? OTOH, if you have met children who were disillusioned about the gospel due to discovering one day in their teens that the “popcorn” is really a blossom (even though the song actually specifies that it “wasn’t really so” but the raging ADHD kept them from hearing it), then you might have a point.

    I have met dozens and dozens of LDS kids who were thrown for a loop when they tried their best, when they did “the right thing,” and when time after time bad stuff happened. They failed miserably. And they could only understand that failure by thinking the hadn’t prayed hard enough, been good enough, or made sure God cared about them enough to follow through on his “promise.”

    Kaimi’s comment reminded me of the prosperity gospel. If you aren’t filthy rich (fail), it’s because you weren’t righteous (really try) because God said you would never fail. But God didn’t say it, so why should we?

    I didn’t bring it up to nitpick. I brought it up because I think teaching these things have an actual, harmful result.

    #38 jks, I taught them because I was asked to teach the entire song. I was the chorister for a year in Boca, too, and taught all the verses there, too. It’s no big deal, just doing it a verse at a time.

    For the record, jks, I am the last person on earth to be a self-esteem manager. I published an article in about 1994ish titled, “Puppy Dog Self-Esteem” discussing that very issue. My concern isn’t that kids might feel bad about having failure. It’s about having them incorrectly think that God will prevent failure if they “really try.”

  43. April 12, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    I think you should be clearer that you changed the post and some of the initial comments were in response to your initial representation about what the song said.

  44. April 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm


    See here for the section 19 passage I am referring to.

    I suppose that if we are going to use definitions that label God a liar it should not be surprising to say that God’s church lies too. I personally like to use the terms liar and lying more sparingly than that but whatever floats yer boat I guess.

  45. Cameron Nielsen
    April 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    I don’t think there is a problem with the lyrics, as long as they are understood to mean ‘fail’ as eternal reward and not telestial experiences on the earth. Wouldn’t hurt to amend it a bit though.

  46. April 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Great comments here–many of which I had in mind but left unsaid when I decided to write my post: “Follow the…”

  47. Jonathan Green
    April 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Yes, we definitely need more songs in the Primary songbook to teach children that they are alone in an uncaring universe, alienated consumers in an endless mall full of meaningless options, and doomed to experience crushing disappointment because of their genes, their socioeconomic background, and impersonal macroeconomic forces. Unless we confront them with harrowing reality, they will emerge from Primary with unrealistic expectations and quickly go inactive.

  48. April 12, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Stop the presses. For the first time in living memory, I am going on record … I can barely type it … as agreeing with … Adam Greenwood, in #43.

    Alison, as you acknowledge by both your objection to this verse and your defense of your title, words matter. No matter how many times you stomp your foot and say you are justified in calling this “institutional lying,” your gratuitously explosive and offensive language is unjustifiable. Lobbing rhetorical bombs like this is precisely why civility in public discourse is so low.

  49. Julie M. Smith
    April 12, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I have always found this verse theologically problematic . . . but I find Alison’s title far worse. Let’s save the heavy rhetorical firepower for if/when we really need it.

  50. Chadwick
    April 12, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I’m curious. There are lots of primary songs, plenty with unusual lines. Heck, there are also plenty of hymns that could be considered lieing to adults.

    So why this verse? Why this song? Why ignore the others?

    Seems to me if you are the chorister you can break with the singing for a minute and explain this all to the kids. Being chorister is more than just waving your hands at kids that are still tone deaf and can’t hardly read anyways.

    Perhaps there is a frame of reference we are missing here? Because, as Ardis points out above, this comes off as sounding like you have a particular bone to pick.

  51. Jack
    April 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    “To be clear, the song gives zero reference to eternity and 100% to someone who tried to avoid doing what he was told and later did it. Now. In this life.”

    People usually don’t get swallowed by large sea creatures for three days at a time and live to tell the story — in the here and now. Surely the story of Jonah can have a broader analogical application than you suggest.

    If you want a real doozy from the Primary Song Book look no furthur than “Nephi’s Courage”. Part way through the first verse it says (with respect to getting the brass plates): “Laman and Lemuel were both afraid to try.” Well the scriptures make it quite clear that Laman went on his own the first time to see Laban. And the second time it seems that all the brothers went, which would include Lemuel. I don’t that this constitutes an horrific theological blunder but fact it ain’t.

  52. Jack
    April 12, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Last sentence: I don’t *believe* that this…

  53. April 12, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    For those not fortunate enough to be in Primary, I feel that it should be pointed out that “Follow the Prophet” is part of the Primary Sacrament Meeting presentation to be given at the end of the year. So the choristers are pretty much stuck, unless they want to go way out on a limb and refuse to do what has been directed by the General Primary Presidency.

    I don’t have a problem with the line, but that is because I see it as saying the same thing that 1 Nephi 3:7 says, as has been pointed. Nearly everyone in the Church knows that Nephi cheerfully proclaimed that the Lord will provide a way for us to accomplish whatever He commands. What is the difference between what Nephi said and what this song says?

    I am also reminded of a comment made by one of the Apostles (possibly Elder Oaks) who said the the role of General Authorities is to teach general principles. There are almost always exceptions, but they are not called to enumerate them. Likewise with the Primary: generally speaking, if the Lord commands us to do something, He’s not going to let us fail. There are exceptions, but must we always live our lives with footnotes, addendums, and qualifiers?

    I have a much bigger problem with the new last verse, which takes Prophet-worship to a new level. I realise that the verse is written in such a way that the name of the President of the Church can easily be changed, but I still prefer the original verse.

  54. Steve Evans
    April 12, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Maybe the title refers to the post?

  55. April 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    I think that I’m going to cancel General Conference this coming October. It seems like everyone in the bloggernacle–myself included–is in such a pissy mood about everything, and it seems like this happened last October, too.

    So, until further notice, GC is off.

  56. April 12, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    “Jonathan Green
    4/12/2010 at 5:04 pmYes, we definitely need more songs in the Primary songbook to teach children that they are alone in an uncaring universe, alienated consumers in an endless mall full of meaningless options, and doomed to experience crushing disappointment because of their genes, their socioeconomic background, and impersonal macroeconomic forces. Unless we confront them with harrowing reality, they will emerge from Primary with unrealistic expectations and quickly go inactive

    Not to hijack or anything, but making that up could be lots of fun.

  57. gst
    April 12, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    I think if we have to teach children about Jonah, we should just have them read the Father Mapple sermon from Moby Dick, chapter 9. Or have Orson Welles deliver it to them.

  58. Zen
    April 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    One last thing…. every loves to beat up Jonah.

    I think that is entirely misreading what Jonah wrote. Unless you want to believe that someone else wrote it, in which case, authenticity is completely in doubt anyway.

    In any case, I see Jonah as highly self-critical person. Not only does he make no effort to hide his faults, they are front and center in the story. It is almost as if he is pointing out his own faults to try and teach use something.

    I think Jonah beats up Jonah more than we beat up Jonah.

  59. gst
    April 12, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Adam (#56): Don’t know the tune, but the lyrics should be “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”

  60. April 12, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Thank you all for the thoughtful (and flippant!) comments. :)

    #43 Adam Greenwood, done. Thanks for the suggestion.

    #44 Geoff J, #48 Ardis, and #49 Julie, you might consider that I’m neither floating my boat, stomping my feet, nor using rhetorical firepower. Apparently we see things differently. That’s fine with me, and hope you’ll simply take that at face value.

    Years ago I read a book — still one of the best I’ve ever read — written by Quinn McKay and titled “Is Lying Sometimes the Right Thing for an Honest Person to Do?. It was later republished as The Bottom Line on Integrity. Some months after reading it, I attended a weeklong session about lying/honesty taught by the author at BYU Education Week.

    The entire week I sat write in front of Michael Ballam. He was teaching a class as well, but attended McKay’s class and loved it so much that he started promoting it in his own class. (The irony of attending a class on honesty with Ballam was not lost on me.)

    McKay speaks to groups of corporate heads, church leaders, etc., he always starts by asking attendees if they think they are generally honest. Most do. He asks the same at the end. None do. Every time.

    The book/class were completely fascinating to me and I have never looked at honesty the same way again. The truth is, we all lie — a lot — and I now find the harmful thing not in using an accurate word for what we do, but in pretending that we don’t, or playing it down, or by using softer language to make it sound acceptable.

    If we don’t admit that we’re lying we can’t even begin to decide if (a) we need to correct the lie or (b) it is better for the lie to remain. Instead of addressing that real issue, we get bogged down in rewording our behavior to make it palatable. When maybe we should just admit that we lie and get on with it.

    You can very easily jump into a simple example by using Santa Claus. We try to get around it by calling it something cute, like “fantasy.” But it’s lying, pure and simple. And most of us who do it (I do) because we see a lot of joy and fun and no serious downside.

    More seriously, you can take issues where we have competing values, honest vs. loyalty for example. If you were hiding Jews in your attack and the Nazis came to your door, would you lie to protect them? I would. But the tendency is to call it something else because “lying is bad.”

    Maybe lying isn’t really bad, depending on the circumstances.

    So, to me the word “lying” isn’t filled with all the vitriol you seem to take from it. It’s a word that means “giving a false impression” — which is what this song does, in my opinion. And I’ve seen the fallout from this particular false impression too many times to think it’s a good idea to perpetuate it or to think it’s silly or that it’s no different than saying that blossoms look like popcorn.

    Geoff, I see a lot more wiggle room in D&C 19 than you seem to, but that’s obviously debatable. If your point is that it would be horrendous and blasphemous and evil to say that “God lied (or stretched the truth or left a false impression or __________) in order to serve his purposes,” then we’ll have to disagree. If your interpretation is correct, and God completely out and out misrepresented damnation to them in order to trick them into doing what’s right, then I certainly would call it a lie — and think you can only call it otherwise by, well, lying about what the word means.

    I guess the difference is that I think if God decides to mislead people, well, he’s God. He can do it and it must be OK to do it in the circumstance he’s doing it in. He would know better than I.

    All I can get from your post (I didn’t read the comments) is that God’s intentionally misleading men, but DON’T YOU DARE CALL IT LYING BEAUSE THAT WOULD BE HORRIBLE. As you say, whatever floats your boat. I just see it differently.

    #47 Jonathan Green, you imply that the real truth is in your post. Do you really believe that the truth is so bad? If so, then aren’t we presenting the gospel as Santa Claus? A happy little fiction to get us through the day? (Note that I’m not taking a position on that either way, just wondering how you see it.)

    #50 Chadwick, sorry not to be clear. This song, because I am the Primary chorister and the General Primary Board has dictated that this song be taught in March 2010 for inclusion in the fall Sacrament Meeting program. So, it’s been nagging at me all month.

    When I have served with youth, I tend to be one of the adults they come to to ask questions. They sit on my bunk at camp and wait for me and they write letters full of doctrinal questions. (Yes, actual letters. I still have probably 200 pages of answers I wrote up over the course of one year teaching Gospel Doctrine when I instituted the “question box” for their off-topic gospel questions.) When you talk to kids a lot, you see obvious patterns in their questions.

    This week one of my teen FaceBook friends (my kids’ friends often “friend” me) had a huge disappointment and asked, “Why did God let this happen?” I have heard this and very similar questions dozens and dozens of times. And while thinking about how to respond — and, again, wondering where they get these ideas — this verse came to my mind again. And, in my opinion, it’s such teaching that is confusing to them.

    As Kaimi said, we often teach kids that there is a direct do A, get B relationship (he’s calls it “the vending-machine version of God,” I’ve always called it the Gospel Genie) in the gospel — and we don’t specify that such an idea is pretty much confined to “after you die.”

    I already addressed the issue of explaining this song to the kids in the comments.

    #52 Alex, thanks for clarifying that.

    I quite like Clean Cut’s version of the chorus. Good on you.

  61. April 12, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    The point, Alison, that some of us are trying to make is that every error is not a lie. Some are mistakes. Some are misunderstandings. Some arise from ignorance. “Lying” implies a deliberate attempt to deceive.

    Double that exaggeration on your part with the word “Institutional” as if the verse with which you take exception was deliberately promulgated with the full knowledge and intent of the institution from top to bottom.

    What more can I say? You’ve made a mistake here, which means you are a liar. Not only that, but the entire Moore and Smith clans from eldest sire down to most innocent babe are guilty of the lie with you. “Familial Lying.” Yeah. That should be the title of your family history.

  62. April 12, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Alison: So, to me the word “lying” isn’t filled with all the vitriol you seem to take from it.

    So it would seem. Far be it from me to begrudge you using your own secret Alison language. But to the rest of us English speakers lying is nearly universally considered a fairly egregious and intentional version of deceit. In other words, “lying” and “liar” are loaded words in English and it would require willful ignorance to not understand that.

    So yes, saying “God is a liar” is blasphemous whereas saying “God allows us to believe some incorrect things” is not. That is the nature of loaded words.

  63. Marcus
    April 12, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    I so dearly miss the really good Primary songs I grew up with. “Give said the Little Stream” could be picked apart on many levels, but in those days, people weren’t so litigious about church texts and interpretations and counter-interpretations of church texts … or at least the lyrics of the music. They were songs we enjoyed for the sake of singing and feeling praise. Few of them were so heck-bent on indoctrination. My wife commented to me just this Sunday that it was impossible for her to draw pictures to help the kids learn a Primary song yesterday. The text was fully abstract … not a concrete or visual image in the entire text. It was abstract doctrine, and she was supposed to teach it to kids under age 6. What a waste of time. Better would be a giving stream that doesn’t get interpreted to death, and a bunch of kids who feel like when they sing together with their teacher, they belong, are loved, and want to be there, because they like it. There were dozens of great songs … many of them flawed, but expunging false doctrine didn’t seem to be the point back then. Enjoying our time together was the point. And it might just be the point of heaven one day too.

  64. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    April 12, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    When “I Am a Child of God” was first published in the primary songbook, it ended each line of the chorus with the words, “Teach me all that I must know to live with Him someday.” Elder Spencer W. Kimball asked the lyricist to change the word “know” to “do” to make it more theologically correct, in the LDS view, that simple knowledge does not save us (“the devils also believe, and tremble”) but purposive, obedient action can.

    We thus have clear precedent for fixing Primary song verses that might mislead children.

    After all, if the Bible is the Word of God, despite being imperfect and having all sorts of omissions or mistranslations in our King James Version, the Primary songs are far from sacrosanct. The songs are NOT the words of prophets, and even prophets are not infallible (which is the point of Jonah’s story). If we are concerned to avoid wresting the words of scripture, and making someone “an offender for a word”, we should also avoid making a mountain out of a molehill by applying Rabbinical level exegesis to the words of a ditty like this, which children learn alongside songs about mutilating small disabled animals, persistent spiders, babies falling from trees, bridges falling down, and the bubonic plague (“Ring around the rosie”).

    After all, most of the words in most popular music depart from common sense and could not withstand rigorous analysis. “You light up my life” indeed. The primary reason we listen or even sing them is for the enjoyment of them. It is only a small minority of sings whose lyrics are meant to be taken seriously, even as metaphor (“Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears”).

    Many of us read, and some of us even write, poetry. When what we write is not to be taken literally, we proffer our poetic licenses, flipping them open like a police detective to silence critics. I have no idea if Brother Hiatt’s poetic license was current when he wrote the lyrics to this song, but we must give him the benefit of the doubt on that matter.

    I think a more productive effort would be to offer a better thought-out verse to substitute for this whale of a tale, perhaps something (as has been suggested) drawn from 1 Nephi 3:7 (Apologies to anyone who reads this):

    Lehi was a prophet, asking all his sons
    To get brass plates from Laban in Jerusalem.
    Nephi was obedient, for he knew the Lord
    Would ensure they came back with the holy Word.

  65. Cameron Steinbusch
    April 12, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    What I don’t understand is the you get the desires of your heart so be careful about what you wish for. Does this mean everything I get in life is what I wanted? I hope not. I don’t want lots of stuff I have! I wonder is it possible to wish with all my heart it all goes away?

  66. Pelagoram
    April 12, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    So, does this mean that popcorn wasn’t really popping on the apricot tree?

  67. Bryan
    April 12, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    I have learned in my 29 years in the church that there are people who teach the gospel like a formula and if you just do A, B and C that D will follow and you’ll be all happy. Following the path of Christ is hard, but rewarding. My wife and kids have been through enough heart wrenching trials of no fault of our own and we learned that the true test comes when A, B and C does not produce D, but something you didn’t expect, what do you do? My kids have learned that we don’t always know what’s around the corner and whats most important is that you can do all the right things and keep all the commandments and where the real test is, will you continue on the strait and narrow path. Remember, strait means “position of difficulty, distress, or need”. I think some people have a tendency to try to create a Disney World rather than face the fact that we’re not always going to understand why we go through things and we just have to admit to ourselves that, “I don’t understand why, but one day I’ll understand how it added to my growth.”

  68. It's Not Me
    April 12, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I have only read the first 20 or so comments yet, but I’m getting the impression that I’m supposed to feel guilty for not having had years of therapy to help me get over the indoctrination I suffered at the hands of evil primary teachers. I feel fine. I guess I shouldn’t.

  69. It's Not Me
    April 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Perhaps this comment was already made. If so, I apologize. Aren’t the programs of the church supposed to supplement what we teach in the home? And if we truly understood that, would we really worry so much about how our children will internalize a little primary song? Or is family home evening only for goody-goody Mormons?

  70. jen
    April 12, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Whenever we sing this verse in primary, I always think of the VeggieTales version:

    Jonah was a prophet, doo-doo
    But he never really got it, doo-de-le-doo
    He did not get the point.

    Compassion and mercy from me to you and you to me–something something something.

    Or something like that. So yeah, I don’t worry too much about the Follow the Prophets song messing up my kids because we have VeggieTales to set them straight.

  71. April 13, 2010 at 9:31 am

    One of the best parts of the Jonah story has to do with the gourd plant that grows and gives him shade while he sits there waiting for repenant Ninevah to be destroyed. Instead the plant is killed – at which point Jonah becomes a bit petulant and childish and maybe gets a case of sunstroke.

    IMO, it’s one of the funniest chapters in all of scripture.

    This episode doesn’t get any mention at all in the song.

    I object.

  72. April 13, 2010 at 9:38 am


    As for the use of the word lying — my dictionary specifies that the speaker knows what he says is deceitful or untrue. It does suggest intent.

    It’s good that youth come to you with questions. But don’t blame their questions on what they are taught in Primary. My older children are forever trying to rob their younger siblings of their innocence (“But Dad, they have to know how the world works!”), and my plea to them is to let my kids be kids.

    Paul taught that we teach children differently than we teach adults. While I don’t favor blatantly misrepresenting the truth (I do think the lesson of Jonah is different from the one the song represents as I said earlier), it’s ok to teach our youngest children simplified principles that can become more complex as they grow older.

    Where there is, perhaps, a missing link is in the teaching of the complexity of life later on. If the Beehive and MiaMaid lessons are exactly the same as the CTR lessons, then there’s the issue in my mind.

    Having said that, my experience is that most people teaching in Primary and Young Womens have good intent and are not out to hoodwink the kids.

  73. April 13, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Despair, said the little abyss,
    Die and despair, die and despair.
    Despair, said the little abyss,
    as it negated in the void.
    I’m small I know but wherever I go
    the people grow hopeless still.

  74. Julie M. Smith
    April 13, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Keep ’em coming, Greenwood.

  75. Adam Greenwood
    April 13, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Follow the profit, follow the profit,
    bury your anomie in capitalist success.
    Follow the profit, follow the profit,
    greed and consumption are the life that is best!

    Trump sought for profit, in risky leveraged deals.
    When the market went south, his plans lost their wheels.
    But he was not discouraged, he just borrowed more.
    If you’re billions into debt, the bank is your wh***.

    Follow the profit, etc.

    Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.

  76. April 13, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Some of you will say I’m lying, but a great many of you may even be jealous of me:

    I’ve never actually heard this song “Follow the Prophet.” Haven’t got a clue to its tune, and only know it exists through ‘nacle references. It’s been that long since I was around kids, or in a ward with a Primary, but I’m Follow-the-Prophet-FREE.


  77. Canadian_
    April 13, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Wow, all of you are a bright ray of sunshine aren’t you? The entire premise of the article, including the quip about the curse of primary, shows an immaturity I haven’t seen on this site for a long time. Negativity breeds negativity, and there is a whole lot of negativity being bred here.

    Whether you want to wrest with the primary song or not, the simple fact is that when we do try hard God doesn’t let us fail. We may not succeed in the fashion we hoped for, but ultimately if we are doing what He wants us to then the outcomes are for our good. If that is the case then we haven’t failed at all, have we? That is the “Good News” about the gospel, if we are doing what is right even when we fail we succeed!! Admittedly this is hard to see sometimes, but that doesn’t make it less true!

    Happy Trails!

  78. April 13, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Let me start by saying that I will fully acknowledge that the OP should have clarified some of McKay’s thoughts on honestly/lying, etc. It is with some surprise that the information isn’t familiar to more of you. In hindsight, I probably should not be surprised by that. So please forgive me. It’s something I’ve studied about, read about, spoken about (in my convention speeches), written about for about a decade. The ideas and topic are not unfamiliar to everyone I speak to. Given that the author is LDS (brother of Gunn McKay, if you’re old enough to remember him) and works a lot with church and business, I assumed more readers here would be familiar. If you’re not, I highly recommend his books to you. After discussing them with so many others, I think I can safely say they will be life changing for you.

    #61 Ardis, I understand your point and already addressed it in #42. If you’d care to read the response and then comment, I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say.

    Using the word “institutionalized” to mean “established by an organization” is hardly an exaggeration. The Primary songbook is published by the church and required for use in Primary. Unless you’re saying the church isn’t an institution?

    I’ll leave the ad hominem for you to dance with.

    #62 Geoff, you might consider that “my secret language” is neither mine, nor is it secret. It’s been written about a great deal. The fact that you may not have researched it much, doesn’t mean either of the things you state. But I have given an apology for not recognizing this, above. My bad.

    Yes, I know it’s a loaded word. That’s why I used it. I used a loaded word because I think it’s IMPORTANT to recognize that telling children things that aren’t true has serious ramifications. And we have to be honest enough to at least call the lying what is really is, or we can’t begin to address it.

    This isn’t what the post was about *to me*, because I thought that was something people generally agreed upon — or at least would agree upon once the issue was addressed.

    Again, you say it’s blasphemous to call God a liar, even though by definition, he’s lying under your interpretation of the scripture. I disagree. My position is that IF what he did was lying, as you say (using different words, or course), then he wasn’t wrong/sinful/bad for doing so. And if I understood your post, your point really wasn’t just to say “God allows us to believe some incorrect things.”

    #63 Marcus, I understand your wife’s issues. It’s true that many of the songs are, really, just strings of words that don’t make much sense to the young kids. As I said a couple of times already, I don’t have any problem with fun or silly songs and I’m not intent on picking apart lyrics. This particular line bothers me BECAUSE I have seen dozens of kids over the years who are completely disillusioned by the REPEATED (not just this line) presentation of what Kaimi calls “the vending-machine version of God.”

    As a youth, the lessons and magazines and seminary were replete with stories that went something like this: Suzie moved to a new school. She was teased because she dressed modestly and kept the word of wisdom and didn’t swear. She held fast to her standards anyway. The next month she got invited to a party by the most popular kids in school and by the end of the year she was voted prom queen/student body president/ruler of the lunchroom.

    A few years ago, I noticed (with cursory research) what seemed like a great improvement in the New Era (no pun intended), with stories that (while not in line with Jonathan Green’s #47) did reflect a does of reality into the scenario. They would note the real, negative consequences that can come from living the gospel, while also showing the positive benefits (sometimes only long-term) that kids could expect.

    So, Marcus, I don’t have a problem with songs that aren’t utterly doctrinal or truthful (remember, I think it’s OK to lie sometimes :) ), unless their is harm or damage. In the case of “vending-machine gospel” I see the harm regularly and have for two decades.

    Raymond, if it makes any difference I always read your comments. They are great.

    Good point about I am a Child of God. And I still sing “You who unto Jesus” — however you spell “you who.”

    It might be more productive to rewrite the verse — if anyone with authority over the song book read these posts — otherwise, I’m not so sure. And if it led to a correction of the erroneous idea altogether. My concern with this line is that it’s an oft-repeated “lie” in church teaching, particularly with youth.

    Good on your for attempting the Lehi rewrite. :) But let’s get a rhyme or two in there! ;-D

  79. April 13, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    “Some of you will say I’m lying, but a great many of you may even be jealous of me:

    I’ve never actually heard this song “Follow the Prophet.” Haven’t got a clue to its tune, and only know it exists through ‘nacle references. It’s been that long since I was around kids, or in a ward with a Primary, but I’m Follow-the-Prophet-FREE.


    Jealous. The song is monotonous and INTERMINABLE.

  80. Anns
    April 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Allison – I’m also the Primary chorister, and March was not the first month that I have been troubled by some of the lyrics in songs I have been asked to teach the Primary. The line, “The wicked who fight against Zion will surely be smitten at last” sung to such a gleeful tune really disturbed me. And finding a visual for ‘smitten’ was also troublesome. :) I’m lucky that I have somewhat of a free hand in that I chose just 3 verses of “Follow the Prophet” and let the others go.

  81. April 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    #65 Cameraon Steinbusch, good point! It starts to sound like the “law of attraction,” doesn’t it? Yikes!

    #67 Bryan, bless your heart. Sam and I were talking about this this morning. You are so right. It’s interesting to see which adults still carry the gospel formula as gospel. In general, it seems to be those who’ve dealt mostly with success and pleasant conditions. To attribute that success and pleasant lifestyle to “being good” (when, in fact, they ARE pretty good people) seems fair and correct. Until something, like you said, out of their control goes wrong. Then, it’s a real trial because they can’t make sense of it.

    #69 It’s Not Me, I guess we’re goody-goody Mormons, then. It’s wonderful that you didn’t get such misconceptions, but to assume that is universal is incorrect. Unfortunately.

    But to be serious, I think you’ve missed something. I wouldn’t remotely say that the kids who struggle with this have parents who aren’t teaching them at home. Some (one Laurel in particular) had some of the most stalwart parents, utterly intent on teaching their children. The problem comes, at least in part, in that the parents do not KNOW what their kids hear in Primary, in Sunday School, in mutual, in seminary. (The seminary materials — at least in the past — were not even allowed in homes.)

    How can you counter an incorrect teaching that you don’t know is being taught?

    When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, we were driving down Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton, when we passed the electric company truck. The guy was up in the box (what’s that thing called?) trimming the trees around the electrical wires. Jessica SCREAMED! I turned around to ask what was wrong. She said, “They’re cutting the trees! They’re cutting the trees! We’re going to die!”

    Until that point, it had never occurred to me that I needed to teach my children that pruning trees would not cause instant death of all humanity.

    #70 jen, after 22 years of parenting, I’ve still never seen VeggieTales. I see I’ve been missing out! :)

    #71 dainthew, I think together we make a great case for a rewrite. :)

    Jonah was prophet, tried to run away.
    Swallowed by a fish that needed lunch that day.
    Ninevah was evil, he wanted them to croak.
    Underneath a gourd he suffered from suntroke.

    #72 Paul, I addressed that in #42. I actually have not seen a dictionary whose ONLY definitions require intent. (I’ve looked at four since yesterday.) Does yours really have no other options? That would be interesting.

    You say, “…don’t blame their questions on what they are taught in Primary.” I did not intend to place sole blame on anyone. I’m sorry if I gave that impression (liar!). I have just seen systemic problems in teaching particular principles (like the vending-machine gospel) to our kids. Certainly not just in Primary and not even confined to youth. I don’t know where all of them got all the notions they did, but when I see something that contributes to the problem, I notice it and hope we can correct it.

    Your statement about hoodwinking kids is interesting. I wouldn’t attempt to divine motive. I care more about correcting a harmful misrepresentation than in trying to figure out why each person perpetuates it. Most people who volunteer in church are decent people — at least decent enough to volunteer! Some never think about what they teach. They teach what they were taught or what they think they know. Some are simply incorrect. I have known some people who intentionally taught things they knew weren’t actually true because (with good intent in the cases I knew of) they thought the lesson was more effective that way. (Kind of like the D&C 19 example?)

    Interesting thoughts. Thanks.

  82. April 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Don’t we send kids to Primary to learn specific things? I won’t worry about songs they sing as long as it gets the point across. Follow the prophet, you won’t go wrong.

  83. April 13, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    #76 Ardis, jealous doesn’t begin to describe it. No lie.

    #77 Canadian — la la la la la la…I can’t hear you!

    #80 Anns, how about a mob of modestly dressed Mormons beating on people in tank tops with their sticks of Judah and Joseph? So many possibilities!

  84. April 13, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Primary cannot hope to engage children at the same level as Sunday School, which is why they are completely separated. Young children learn by far different methods than adults. Anyone who teaches the young understands this. Far different intellectual levels and intelligence are typical, making the childish approach necessary. “…When I was a child, I spake as a child…”

    Is it “lying” to instrument the information taught in such a was as to appeal to the minds of children? Perhaps it could be so. But this is harsh usage of the term. Begs the question of just how much similar “lying” goes on at higher levels, for those of us incapable of understanding much higher principles.

  85. April 13, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Alison (#78): The fact that you may not have researched it much, doesn’t mean either of the things you state.

    Har! Well alrightee then.

    I am always amused when I see people going on some absurd quixotic attack trying to change the meaning of a word in English. Now admittedly with enough people on board sometimes words in English do change meanings in the public consciousness. (Think “gay” or for instance. Evangelicals are trying their hardest to hijack the term “Christian” for themselves too). But for now “lying” and “liar” are words that imply something much more nefarious than you apparently wish they would mean. The fact that some obscure dude wrote some obscure book claiming otherwise doesn’t change the general understanding of the word among English speakers one bit.

    Look, everyone with half a brain already knows that we don’t tell the whole truth to everyone all the time. For instance, we don’t explain in great detail the mechanics of how babies are made to our little children. Calling parents liars when they leave out details of where babies come from when their 5 year old asks is ludicrous and shows a profound ignorance of the contemporary meaning of the word liar. Likewise, calling The Church a lying institution for publishing a primary song that says in essence that God is always there for us is both ludicrous and offensive.

  86. Marcus
    April 13, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Just catching up on this thread. I think I was helped enormously in life when my parents (hardly aware of what they were doing) introduced me at a remarkably young age to Mark Twain’s pair of stories about The Good Little Boy and The Bad Little Boy. That kind of wry humor, if you encounter it early, will help you through life through the often rather facile generalizations about what God will or will not do for us based upon the various contingencies of our sinfulness or righteousness. Those two stories were substantial and highly entertaining food for thought way back then and remain so today. Probably my first sense and apprehension of that thing we call irony. I’d love to find some way to work those stories into a lesson at Church someday. Maybe not Primary. Too young. Maybe not until kids are developing a sense of satire and irony. Mutual or seminary age. Isn’t a huge factor in all of this the simple fact that our culture steers carefully away from ironies? They threaten our facile and often faulty theological premises. Thanks for this vivid exchange, everyone.

  87. Chadwick
    April 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I’m surprised to find so many that do not like this primary song. Having spent 3 years with the same primary class, I can tell you that this song, and Scripture Power, were the two that got the mojo flowing. All the others seemed too quiet for children with lots of energy. In fact, Follow the Prophet seemed to be the one song the children retained the words to long after we had finished practicing it.

    I think I liked this song because it rather encouraged the junior primary in the Costa Mesa second ward to be children! Many songs in particular seemed bent towards making children overly-reverent. That’s not to say I don’t like the reverent songs, but it was also nice to sing a song once in a while that allowed for some controlled rowdyness to liven up the meeting. Quiet dignity is great and all, but c’mon, 6 year olds need to release energy during a 3-hour block.

    I’m curious again. What Primary songs do y’all find acceptable?

  88. April 13, 2010 at 3:24 pm


    I’ve already posted a couple of examples. Some of my other favorites are

    I’m All Made of Unhinged Impulses (and Also I’m Cracked)

    When Joseph Went to Bedlam

    I Am a Child of Selfish Genes


  89. H.Bob
    April 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    “It’s a setup for all sorts of future disillusionment. Why do we do this to our children?”

    Because disillusionment is a necessary step in intellectual maturity. We teach the ideal (the principles) in order to later teach the real (the exceptions). Disillusionment with the ideal world we believe in as children is an important step in learning what it means to be an adult, and to live with integrity, believing in and working toward that ideal while acknowledging that, by ourselves, we’ll probably never get there.

    If I have any argument with anything previously written, it’s that disillusionment is somehow a bad thing–there’s a reason we go through the sullen, rebellious, and, yes, disillusioned period we call pubescence. Part of it is “putting off childish things,” and becoming adults, including finding the reasons why our parents and others “lied” to us, and then lying to our children for the same reasons. We want them to have ideals and work toward them.

    And for the record, what offends me most about “Follow the Prophet” is the absolute disregard for meter in that song, especially the newest verse. If it rhymes, it had better scan, too.

  90. Julie M. Smith
    April 13, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    What is this newest verse of which you speak? Did I miss something?

  91. H.Bob
    April 13, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    The newest verse is the one for President Monson (I’m only marginally sure this isn’t the same one they had for President Hinckley, but if you stick “Hinckley” in there, the meter’s worse than atrocious, so I’m guessing–hoping–that this is merely a poor new verse):

    “Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to return.
    He blesses us with prophets who help us to learn.
    President Monson humbly leads God’s Church today.
    As we heed his words, we’ll walk a righteous way.”

  92. April 13, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Wow, that new verse is awful. It makes me thank Cthulhu for old classics like “Despair, said the little abyss.”

  93. Aaron Brown
    April 13, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Would this be the appropriate venue to announce my imminent, permanent departure from the Bloggernacle, given my inability to stand anymore of the sacrilege embodied by overwrought OPs and disrespectful song lyrics that can be found throughout, including in posts like this one?

  94. Iowa_Pilot
    April 13, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    It all depends on what the definition of “is” is.

  95. agnes
    April 14, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Perhaps I missed a comment or twelve, but no one seemed to be speaking from their childhood memories. I will. I found those songs profoundly damaging. As a 10 year old (probably more correctly, 10 1/2.)

    It was already clear to me that life was not like a primary song. Again, I had a difficult life, but the songs did the opposite of helping. You Rock Alison. Thanks.

    My famous one comment too many. I surely was not the only observant 10 1/2 year out there. Why not a bit more nuance and compassion?

  96. agnes
    April 14, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I’m utterly charmed by the way the two essentially diametrically opposed meanings of “observant” both fit nice and snugly into my last remark. G’night all.

  97. agnes
    April 14, 2010 at 12:44 am

    It was an accident. The clever bit. G’night Kaimi, Chthulu and all you other worthies out there. As my parting words, which every single primary-age child would sing with gusto: “Cthulhu fhtagn.”

  98. April 14, 2010 at 9:00 am

    “Wow, that new verse is awful.”

    Lets just say that if that new verse is part of the new song we sing at the 2nd Coming, my faith will be shaken.

  99. gst
    April 14, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    It’s a world of bloodshed
    A world of pain
    It’s a world of terror
    And murder for gain
    And the death that we fear
    Is now stalking us near
    It’s a hard world after all.

    Though I confess I think I heard the original song in Disneyland, not Primary. But I still felt compelled to entruthify the lyrics for my children.

  100. April 14, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks for entruthifying, GST. You are a real American hero–which as we all know probably means that you are an oppressive megalomaniac who we’ve been duped into admiring by endemic power structures.

  101. April 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    The benefit of Cthulhu is that you get the Elders and the Gods, all wrapped up in one — the Elder Gods! Two birds, one stone. Well, two fish creature thingies.

    The downside is remembering where all of those d— h’s go. What good is an Elder God whose name no one can spell?

  102. April 14, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I find solace — err, despair — in the classics.

    Go softly into that good night,
    Embrace, embrace, the dying of the light.

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
    Sat on a stump to fade and die
    For none of it makes any difference.

  103. April 14, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    “What good is an Elder God whose name no one can spell?”

    Nho gohod.

  104. April 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank the gods I will not be,
    I thank them for my mortal soul.

  105. April 14, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    gst (99),
    I heard that once, except it started with

    It’s a world of boogers
    A world of snot
    It’s a world of picking your nose a lot

    and so on…

  106. Cynthia L.
    April 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    I think this discussion comes down to whether you are more of this kind of person or this kind.

  107. Eric Boysen
    April 16, 2010 at 8:53 am

    We will often fail when we try to do what we want to do. The promise is that God will not let us fail at doing what He wants us to do. If we set our self at cross-purposes with Him we are bound to fail. Now that raises the question of why He wanted me to fail my diff eq exam (but perhaps I can look back and find another explaination).

    Now I am going to go to Vermont to find the treasure. . .

  108. Ellis
    April 17, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    This discussion is really fun. It is difficult to take it seriously when it is clear that fail is used because it rhymes with whale. I think Kaimi’s verse is the absolute best. It should be adopted.

    While I agree that we often don’t give kids enough credit in terms of their abilities to think, I also believe that most kids would not pick up on this because they don’t pay that much attention to the words. This is a grown up analysis. Most grown ups know perfectly well that the important thing is that everything rhymes.

    I think it is a bad song because the tune is “borrowed” from Have Negila aka Harvey and Sheila (sorry about the spelling.) The hymn, God Speed the Right, number 106, in the hymn book puts the idea of failure in a different light. I sang this song for years growing up and never picked up on it until an adult pointed it out. Verse 2 reads

    Be that prayer again repeated.
    Ne’er despairing though defeated,
    Like the great and good in story,
    If we fail we fail in glory.
    God speed the right etc.

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