Sunday, November 16, 2008

who we are

Last night J and I were talking about the disproportionate amount of cultural contributions that the Jewish people have made throughout history. (I know, odd topic. If you only knew the strange things we think are fun to talk about.) I was wondering if people of our Faith could ever have that kind of effect on society, and then I remembered this quote from a New York Times article by Noah Feldman: "In the elite East Coast worlds where Romney has made his career, Mormonism signifies personal rectitude, professional competence and an idiosyncratic-but-impressive rejection of alcohol and caffeine. If anything, the systematic over representation of Mormons among top businesspeople and lawyers affords LDS affiliation a certain cachet — rather like being Jewish, but taller."

Mormons are over-represented among leaders in business and politics, and let's not forget "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Dancing With the Stars." But what causes me to mourn is that I don't think we will ever be humorists. We are so earnest. It would surely take centuries of persecution for us to develop anything approaching the awesome Jewish sense of humor. Should we, then, thank the current crop of idiots for their blatant abuses? Maybe they are making us stronger and funnier. Something to think about.

At church today we were studying from the Joseph Smith book in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series. The topic was knowledge, and it reminded me of these words by an anti-Mormon from Smith's time. I know I've posted this before, but I love it: "The Mormons appear to be very eager to acquire education. Men, women, and children lately attended school, and they are now employing [a] Hebrew teacher...and about seventy men in middle life, from twenty to forty years of age, are most eagerly engaged in the study. They pursue their studies alone until twelve o'clock at night, and attend to nothing else...They are by no means, as a class, men of weak minds."

Here are a couple things that grabbed me today in class. Joseph Smith said:

“… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the domination of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”

“Knowledge does away with darkness, suspense and doubt; for these cannot exist where knowledge is. … In knowledge there is power.”


Mama Ava said...

Interesting post, Calandria. Other than Mitt Romney and Donny Osmond, I didn't know that Mormons are over-represented in business and lawyers.

Growing up, everyone knew it was "safe" to date a Mormon (if they were allowed to date non-Mormons) because you wouldn't have any worries. The one "black sheep" Mormon family in our town, where the dad was an elder but all the kids either got pregnant or got someone else pregnant, was the exception. I remember talking with my friends about a boy we both liked and if he asked one of us out would it be OK to have a Coke or should we stick with Sprite. Deep thoughts, huh?

Ballerina Girl said...

I enjoy reading about other faiths than mine Calandria. Thank you for sharing...I find Mormonism fascinating.

Meg said...

Your Joseph Smith teachings reminded me of something I read when we studied Brigham Young. He said:

"Mormonism," so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to "Mormonism". The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. "Mormonism" includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life' it is fulness of all tings in the gods and in the eternities of the gods.

I want to say to my friends, that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours, we claim it."

As to the businessmen, here's a short list of companies with LDS CEO's or Senior VP's, past or present:

Deloitte & Touche, Jet Blue, Dell, Novell, NuSkin, Sorensen Media, Lufthansa Airlines, Eastman Kodak, Southwest Airlines, Huntsman Chemical Corp., Marriott & Franklin Covey.

Michelle said...

I have thought about how so many Mormons (men especially) go into business and law. And I think what may be a wave of the future for Mormons--dentistry. I see these collective choices as representative of the pragmatism of Mormons, as well as their desire to provide a middle class to upper middle class lifestyle for their larger than average families. I don't see the same Mormon presence in the arts or academia. I don't think Mormons are encouraged, in a general sense, to be individualistically creative or intellectual. I am speaking in very broad sweeps here just off the top of my head. Great insight about humor.

I'd dispute that the gay rights activists staging protests across the country--including in front of temples--are idiots. I think that a minority of them have crossed some lines with property damage and harrassment, but I see them as frustrated and upset with the election results in california and other states and are trying to find a way to express this.

Calandria said...

It's fine to be frustrated and upset. I suppose "idiots" was not the right word because it wasn't specific enough. "Bigots" is much better.

Calandria said...

I agree that broadly speaking, Mormons are not encouraged to pursue careers in the arts. But I bet there is not a group of people who value music more on an amateur level. Really, I think there are few parents anywhere who would be gung-ho about encouraging a child to pursue a career in the arts without a back-up plan. And it's true that with large families encouraged, that could be less so for Mormons.

As far as academia goes, I don't know. I would like statistics on that--percentage of PhDs in the country vs. Mormon PhDs. There are two of my children, for example, that I can definitely see pursuing some area of scientific research. They seem cut out for it.

Calandria said...

Whoops--just read my comment on "idiots" and I left something out so it doesn't make sense. What I meant to say is that it's fine to be frustrated and upset. What is not fine is targeting Mormon buildings for protest. I think that is bigoted. How can you look at those signs and think otherwise?

Anonymous said...

What really upset me was when Gov. Schwartzy compared the gay marriage ban to that of inter racial marriage. That is so very wrong in so many ways. I was so disgusted with him, it is plain to see that he thinks that the protests are warranted, You know, I object to civil unions, and same gender couples adopting. I think it is bad for the children. Not a popular opinion I know, but there it is.

Meg said...

I'm sure Dr. Henry Eyring (awarded the National Medal of Science), Dr. Russel M. Nelson (prominent heart surgeon), Richard G. Scott (nuclear engineer) and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) just to name a few, may disagree with Michelle's broad sweeps in regards to Mormon arts and academia. Gordon B. Hinckley,(awarded the highest civilian award, The Presidential Medal of Honor), son of a skilled history writer and accomplished musician and teacher, was learned enough to read the Iliad and the Odyssey in it's original Greek. He would tell you it was church service that allowed him to contribute so much as an individual.

The Church teaches that the glory of God is intelligence. We are encouraged to seek continued learning throughout all our lives. The church owns a university, founded several private preparatory schools, and funds many community theatre presentations, museums, exhibits, symposiums,etc within the community. Once a year the campus of the university is opened to the public for Education Week. Courses of various subjects and interests are offered. A Women's Conference is also offered in the spring of each year. Most recently the women of the church were strongly encouraged to use their creativity to make the world a better place.

Hopefully this answers some questions regarding the church and individual members pursuing arts and academia.

Michelle said...

Hi Meg,

You have given some great examples of exceptional individuals within the church who has excelled in science and history. But, are they unusual among Mormons? And are there any Mormons who are writing great literature? Or creating great art? I don't know.

My half formed thoughts may need some additional explanation. Funny that you mention Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. I love her writing and just read a recent essay of hers. She is certainly a first class historian and I admire the path that she has taken to get to where she's at. From her personal essays, though, I gather that the intersection of a faithful Mormon and a historian at Harvard has not been an easy one to navigate for her. (That may have more to do with her being female and Mormon though.) So, the first thing I wonder about is whether there are certain kinds of professions that in some way would naturally conflict with Mormonism's basic tenets. Some one mentioned Asher Lev on this blog recently. Potok's writing is full of the conflicts between art and Judaism and intellectualism and Judaism. I wonder if similar (or other) conflicts exist for Mormons.

I think that there are two streams of thought in Mormonism regarding knowledge. Knowledge and learning are certainly encouraged, but there is a feeling in the church that too much learning can be a bad thing. "To be learned is good, if you hearken to the counsels of the Lord" on one side, but "woe to those that are learned, for they think they are wise", on the other side. That has to do with the primacy we put on revelation and knowing that human knowledge is limited. There is a strand of anti-intellectualism that runs through the church, I think in part because of this. Intellectualism can put one on a spiritually dangerous path. And perhaps this idea acts to channel Mormons into certain kinds of careers and away from others.

I wish there were some hard data about career paths of Mormons in the United States that we could look at. Maybe there would be no difference between what career choices Mormons make compared to the choices of other similar Americans.

All that said, though, at the end of the day I say, "Who knows? I very well could be wrong."

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading all of your comments but you all seem to forget that the church is the church of Jesus Christ for all the world and not just Americans. In the rest of the world LDS members are not encouraged to go into any particular study or profession.

Also, it seems that only in the States do LDS members have a lot of children at a young age. The average here among members is 2 children and people wait until they are finished with missions and school before having children (that is, they are married but wait).

Being from the East I also think there is a western LDS culture that does not fit in with other places at all. The 'Molly Mormon' idea is certainly one them.

As for comedians well, this family certainly has a few. Maybe they should go professional...hee hee

Meg said...

Calandria- I know this is long...delete it if you want! :)

Hi Michelle,

I appreciate your comments and the mental exercises. Sorry this is long but I did find something which helped me sort this a bit within myself.

My thoughts in part:

Truly great art and literature must first be defined before one could look at individual Mormon achievement. How one judges greatness will differ, and I would suggest that using the world's yard stick, the true, practicing religious artist, of any religion, would be in smaller number.

One reason may lie in the scripture you partially quoted. It reads, “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness and the frailties of the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”

By this teaching, true learning takes one closer to God, and false wisdom finds itself conflicted.

Take Asher Lev. No one would suggest that Asher Lev’s talent was not great. However, was it great art to depict his Jewish parents crucified? His technique may have been flawless, but I would argue “no”. That’s where definitions of “great” become subjective.

I disagree with the idea that,“intellectualism can put one on a spiritually dangerous path... channeling Mormons to certain careers”.

True intellectualism has no conflict in Mormonism.

John A. Widstoe (Mormon scientist) taught:
"Almost every day someone, usually honest enough, offers a new belief or thought, burnished and bright with newness, to replace convictions that we have long held and which have well maintained us. This always raises the question whether the old beliefs should be surrendered unless we are certain that the new offering can serve us better. A careless exchange may result in loss or fearful consequences.

There is, of course, no objection to a thing or thought because it is new. This is a growing and increasing world; and as long as time endures, if we live well, progress will animate us. The mind must not be closed against progress. New light is constantly coming into the world, which should be received with gladness. The question is merely with respect to the validity and value of the new offerings. Are the old beliefs false? Are the new ones true? If true, are they of such fundamental value as to necessitate the required exchange?

So run the questions that man must answer, if indeed he be an honest and progressive man. New beliefs should be accepted with care, but to refuse to exchange old error for new truth would be disastrous. The proffered exchange of a narrow for a more comprehensive conception of eternal realities would be made with profit, and all right-minded persons should stand ready to accept such greater light.

There can be no valid objection to changing one's opinion on any subject, providing he changes from error to truth. In fact, many of the new opinions or beliefs are better than the old ones.

In many cases, however, the new offerings strike deliberately at the foundations of our established beliefs. If accepted, many of them would destroy the means by which man has moved these many years towards peace of mind and happiness of life.

Often it is impossible at first sight to detect the danger of such suggestions, for they are carefully worded, and have not been subjected to the test of life and experience. Their truth has not been fully plumbed. Those who gaily and happily accept new opinions without inquiry, may soon find themselves in a state of misery, either expressed or silent. To such persons, the exchange of the old for the new has brought disaster.

A new definition of God, a new theory of man's relationship to God, or a new interpretation of the purpose of life, are matters which must be subjected to the severest tests of truth. One who loves truth cannot follow the multitude with respect to such matters. He must know for himself. “ end quote.

As to careers paths- Mormons are encouraged to finish school and receive schooling in a career that will support a family.

I think Calandria made good sense when she suggested that many parents would want a back-up plan for a child wanting to make a career in the arts. The arts make great hobbies but most people want careers that pay fair wages consistently. I don’t think that is unique to religion. I think those who want to study and write and paint, or whatever, are going to pursue it, career or not. And the church has always supported true development of the arts.

Sorry again for the long quote.

Thanks, Calandria, to your blog for another “great” chat. :)