Tuesday, November 18, 2008

my religion can beat up your religion

As I reread my post from yesterday, it seemed more than a little self-congratulatory. One time a friend and I were laughing a little about a talk this Mormon woman gave describing how incredible her pioneer ancestors were. And then going on to give them credit for contributing to her own awesomeness. (Snarky, I know. Not sure why I found her talk so worthy of comment when I've been known to let it drop that I'm descended from Roger Williams.) Anyway, my friend called these stories that pioneer descendants tell "my family can beat up your family" stories.

I know that there are more people who read this blog who are members of other Faiths than Mormons readers. You were probably rolling your eyes at that post and some of our comments about the greatness of Mormon culture. Or maybe not, but I wanted to give a couple reasons for why I posted that and why I find this topic so worthy of discussion.

It bothers me when the media or other groups define Mormons. Many times they take one aspect of our history, culture, or political involvement and blow it out of proportion. I've seen some of that lately, and I feel compelled to be another voice. A Mormon voice. We will define ourselves.

And that leads to the troublesome question, "Who are we?" We are such a young Church. We haven't had much time to develop a culture, and yet I think there is one that the world at large has yet to recognize.

There are now more members of our Church living outside the U.S. than within. Saturday night I had the opportunity to see a broadcast of a large-scale cultural event put on by the members in Mexico City, preceding the rededication of the Mexico City temple on Sunday. It was held in the Estadio Azteca, which holds 100,000 people. It was full. The event told the history of the Mexican nation in some video clips, massive dance numbers, and choreographed enactments. It was so impressive! The message to me and also, I imagine, to the many non-Mormon dignitaries attending, was, "We embrace the good and we are proud of what is good in our Mexican heritage."

In the other post, I think we were focusing more on U.S. middle class Mormon culture. The culture you may find in suburban wards of large U.S. cities--the large, conservative families where high-paying professions are encouraged for men, children take lots of music lessons and generally do quite well in school.

In our worldwide Mormon culture, though it is still very young and new, I think there are some prevailing strains. We embrace the good wherever we may find it. Mormons all over the world seem to love dance. There are some great Mormon writers and performers who are very well known. There are scientists and intellectuals of note, and I would be surprised if there are fewer than in other religious groups, besides the Jews. However, we don't need knowledge and creativity to exclusively mean getting a PhD or writing the next great work of literature. Our definition is much broader, and it includes the creativity and knowledge necessary to make a nurturing home, to live within our means, to find joy in simple pursuits, to make the world a better place in ways both large and small, and even to deal with the aftermath of large-scale disasters. We do not disdain such knowledge and creativity as unfashionable like much of the world does. We value it.

As far as there being an anti-intellectual strain in U.S. Mormons, I don't know that I agree. I don't know that Mormons are any more anti-intellectual than Americans are generally. A look at the resumes of our highest leaders might indicate, in fact, that we value intellectualism more than Americans generally or other religious groups in the U.S. Among the twelve apostles and three First Presidency, there are only a three or four who don't have doctorate degrees. Also, I came across this interesting statistic yesterday: "41 percent of Mormons with only elementary school education attend Church regularly. By contrast, 76 percent of LDS college graduates attend Church regularly and 78 percent of LDS who went beyond their college degrees to do graduate study attend Church regularly."


Meg said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

According to my Webster, an intellectual is someone "guided by the intellect rather than by feelings," "having great mental abitlity." I don't understand what people mean when they talk about being anti-intellectual and such. I see that Christians often get offended by so called "intellectuals" that shun Christianity, but aren't there lots of great Christian "intellectuals?" I always considered myself to be a "deep thinking" person, is that less than intellectual? Or, have we changed the meaning of intellectual to mean "angry zealous atheist?"

Anonymous said...

I've never heard about the anti-intellectual thing. If that is so then I don't think it is conscious. Certainly within the U.S. young women get married young and also decide to have children very young. They don't realize that life has a way of throwing curves and women end up not getting their education. This is NOT what the Young Women's program says AT ALL!! Young women are taught that education is paramount to being good mothers and wives.

Here in northern Europe, young LDS women do not marry so young as in the U.S. and if they do they wait to have children until after they finish school. They also tend to have fewer children basing it on financial reasons. I think some LDS Americans tend to just have more and more children even if they can not afford them.

Raising teens here has other difficulties then in the U.S. but many LDS Americans here agree that not worrying about finishing college or getting married and pregnant young is a big plus. Its one thing we all agree on.

Calandria said...

Auntie, it sounds like from what you are saying it is necessarily bad for women to get married young and have children right away. If you are indeed saying that, I don't agree. I know many women who've done so and are very happy. One woman I admire prodigiously, Cocoa at Chocolate on My Cranium, is younger than I am and has seven beautiful children. She seems very happy, and there's no way such a woman could be called uneducated. I have no idea if she has a degree or not and I don't care. I've known Cocoa for several years and I can tell from the way she expresses herself and lives her life, she is highly educated. More so than most people I know, men or women.

As you know, I married young and promptly proceded to have four children. I didn't see that as a reason for my husband or me to not continue our education. If anything, it made us more committed to our educational goals.

Sure, it happens that people who marry "too young" end up unhappy. So do people who marry "right on time," whenever that is. So do people who never marry or have children because they're too busy entertaining themselves.

Anonymous said...

JW and I were invited along with 3 other couples in our ward to attend a marriage class. We are all from very different backgrounds. Two couples have had children before they were married and two did not. The couples who had children previous to getting married are no longer with the father of the first children, but proceeded to marry and have more children with their husbands. These women have lots of interesting insight into marriage that comes from years of stress, heartache and experience. Both women found their husbands when they were into their middle twenties, they married quiet men who are great with children, a contrast to their first picks. I think that for many eighteen or nineteen year olds marriage is a bad choice, but it can and does turn out well for others, it depends on the couple.

Maine Mom said...

It bothers me too when there are programs on tv about Mormons, but the material doesn't come from actual Mormons. Does a professor of religion have more knowledge about my religion than I do? No.

bob said...

you know what really bugs me? when people think that their way of living life is the only right way and when people pass generalized judgement on individuals. because we are individuals. marrying at 18 is right for some people, marrying at 30 is right for others, and not marrying at all is right for me.~alexa ps. i really like the controversal posts!

Mama Ava said...

I wonder if it's different when both the values of marrying and having children relatively early AND education are reinforced. For Mormons, the family expectations are there but the education/lifelong learner aspect is also there. Women may get married and start families younger with a much different set of expectations, reasons, and support systems than young woman who gets married and finds herself raising a family when those things have not been as intentional or planned out.

There's no doubt being married and having a family can put a strain on personal plans and that woman have a tendancy to put their own needs far down the list of important things when it comes to family. But if all those aspects are planned and are intentional, then it's more likely that it will all be in balance.