Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Power of the Awkward Silence

First Sunday of the month, and it’s fast and testimony meeting. For those who do not know, in this meeting there are no scheduled speakers; the pulpit is open for anyone in the congregation to rise and “bear their testimony.” What exactly is shared in a testimony is not my object to define.

My object lies between the words. Sometimes there is a pause between speakers as no one rises to take the stand. Often, someone who was sitting squirming in his seat will rise to the pulpit, and begin:

“I had to break the awkward silence.”

Silence, the absence of noise, is not an essentially awkward thing. Things are awkward when they feel out of place. When they’re not supposed to be there. When we are used to something else.

Awkward silences only exist in a world that is noisy, and constantly so. We are accustomed to talking to and being talked at. Texts that beep in our pockets and chat windows permeate our lives with cacophony, and earbuds and MP3s mean that the quiet of solitude can be banished for the cost of carrying around a small weight in our pocket and sucking our focus from that which surrounds us.

Something holy is that which is separated from the vulgar. It is not normal nor quotidian. It is rare and precious. Amidst the vulgar cacophony, silence creates a space. It is empty. It can be filled, if we wish: we can keep talking, or we can be awkward, and accept the silence.

The very awkwardness of the silence can be a boon. It discomfits us. We cannot continue living through it as we have lived the rest of our time. We do not know how to approach it. It is something new, unfamiliar, something disorienting. The awkwardness forces us into another frame of mind. Only by becoming disoriented can we reorient ourselves rightly. We are lifted out of our lives – and where we land is up to us.

When we go to the temple, we change into white clothing and speak in whispers; we leave our troubles at the door, and step into another world to commune with God. On the Sabbath day we step out of the week; what consumes our thoughts and our worries is left aside, and we are left with something new. During the passing of the sacrament, we sit in silence, better to hear the still, small voice of the Spirit speaking. We cannot shortchange ourselves by merely persisting in our everyday attitudes. The silence in the schedule is a blessing.

Nearer the beginning of my mission, the lessons my companions and I would teach were full of words: our words. We were comprehensive. We taught so that there could be no misunderstanding. What we did not know was that nothing was being understood by our talking at people. Without silence, after all, there can be no dialogue, and dialogue is the heart of interpersonal communion. As I realized this, I cut down what I said. I gave bonsai lessons, three sentences per principle, and asked questions. I waited for the investigators (learners) to ask questions of their own, in no rush, and sat quiet, intent on listening to their response all the way, after asking my own questions. Lessons were shorter. They were less comprehensive. But they were comprehended, and the Spirit was there.

Even though language is a part of what makes us human, and can convey so many wondrous messages, and without which we would be so terribly, terribly alone, it is not verbosity that makes us human. William Faulkner knew this: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” It is that divine spark within each of us that makes us human. Noise, even good noise, can all too easily drown its susurrations.

We must remember the silence that reigned in Gesthemane, where so few words were uttered.

It was in the silence on Golgotha that the Atonement was completed: a silence that even Christ could not comprehend.

No wonder the injunction is to “be still, and know that I am God.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Elder Uchtdorf and the Communal Context of Welfare

So. Whenever I hear the topic of welfare raised in church, my little built-in blue-colored alarm goes off and I start reaching for Mosiah 4. I’ve found that all too often people associate the word “welfare” all too quickly with “queens” and government bureaucracies that, like all bureaucracies, have their own pathologies and problems that stem from internal regulations and bylaws. As I’m flipping through Omni, the discussion continues: the government provides based on the manner of the world, not on manner of the church and/or God. In the worst cases, these discussions devolve into restatements of Milton Friedman as gospel*.

But after the red sparks have flown, I feel the obligation to point out that, gasp, bureaucratic institutional inefficiency is also seen in the church**. On my mission I saw enough of church finances to know that the church’s local distribution of aid unfortunately does not always appear significantly different from the doleful dole everyone laments. And while I recognize the spiritual nature of welfare principles and understand that people will be healthier spiritually if they are not dependent (it does bother me when people take advantage of the system, and especially when recipients of government support rail against welfare) we must always remember King Benjamin’s haunting question: “Are we not all beggars?”

An important thing to note is that King Benjamin was not speaking to one individual at a time: his speech was directed toward a congregation, a community, that was constituted to listen to him and which shared the same converting experience that day, based around its utter nothingness before God. He didn’t ask, after all, “Are you not a beggar?”

What’s more, when Alma founds the Nephite Church, the baptismal covenant to which the people agree inextricably ties them to a community: there can be no baptism, there can be no church, without more than one person with some sort of sociability between them. You can’t have a baptism with only one person***. Nor can you “mourn with those that mourn” unless there’s someone that’s mourning and someone else to mourn with him. Heavens, “church” literally means “congregation”!

For these reasons I found President Uchtdorf’s talk in the past Priesthood session of General Conference to be particularly fascinating. The first thing I noticed was that while he asserted, as is the rightful wont of church officials, that welfare “is a self-help program where individuals are responsible for personal self-reliance,” every single specific example he used to illustrate this point did NOT portray an individual going it alone. Instead, he painted a picture that was much richer and more complex than many of our brethren imagine.

He notes the city of Enoch, mentioning the “temporal work” they undertook to “[ensure] that there were ‘no poor among them.’” We must ask: how did this come to pass? Did everyone immediately become self-reliant? Were there people who were committed to following Christ but weren’t self reliant? Were those people expelled from the city?

Then in the one anecdote Pres. Uchtdorf uses to speak of the benefits of the church’s welfare principles, he doesn’t talk about a bishop or employment specialist helping an unskilled member find vocational training. Instead, he speaks of a stake president – Spencer W. Kimball, no less! – appealing to the General Authorities for funds with which to provide relief for flood damage. In place of sending money, the apostles admonished him that welfare was a program of “self-help.” But this so-called “self-help,” in the end, consisted not of a proclamation for each member to put on his waders and shovel out his own basement. This “self-help” was actualized when they had “hundreds of [their own] go to Duncan and build fences and haul the hay and level the ground and do all the things that needed doing.” Self-help was, weirdly and unintuitively enough, a communal undertaking. Where does the self begin and end?

All throughout the talk, President Uchtdorf speaks of the welfare provider’s relationship to welfare principles. Welfare not only uplifts the destitute but is necessary for the spiritual development of the privileged as well; as Handbook 2 says, it “humbles the rich, exalts the poor, and sanctifies both.” Uchtdorf again: “Our spiritual progress is inseparably bound together with the temporal service we give to others.” There is no simple, strict served/serving dichotomy: “the Lord’s way has always included self-reliance and service to our neighbor in addition to caring for the poor.” If we do not serve to alleviate others’ suffering, we are not living in accordance with welfare principles. Relief is not “someone else’s responsibility… it is mine, and it is yours,” whether we are materially poor or wealthy. As he later says, “The Lord’s way is not to sit at the side of the stream and wait for the water to pass before we cross. It is to come together, roll up our sleeves, go to work, and build a bridge or a boat to cross the waters of our challenges.” We – together – our – work.

Thus, beyond an individual responsibility, welfare is a community duty in which “principles of care for the needy, service to neighbor, and self-reliance complement each other.” We cannot shirk this duty; no one in the church can. While we denigrate “the way of the world” for providing welfare with sadly inherent shortcomings, we must also recognize that the atomistic individualism our culture enshrines, which causes us to sincerely question whether we are our brother’s keeper, is just as uninspired, selfish and flawed as anyone who takes advantage of freely given funds. It is a philosophy of men. It is, along with the despair and fear of seemingly helpless dependence, a wound of the spirit that we must be willing to let Christ heal. When it does, we will realize the brilliant truth: no one is alone.

The true hallmark of the Lord’s way, in the end, is the guidance of the Spirit, which does not write casuistic, impenetrable regulations but gives us inspiration with regard to any specific situation in which we may need it. Without the Spirit, it’s not the Lord’s way no matter how many principles we adhere to.

Returning to King Benjamin, we must realize that as much as we strive to be self-reliant, we can never reach that goal completely in this life. We are all dependent on God for our lives, on Christ for our salvation, on our family and friends for our economic, spiritual and social upkeep, on our governments for the many services they render, and so forth. We will always have insufficiencies that will require us to seek help from our neighbors, God, Christ and the Holy Ghost. May we internalize this eternal fact and impart service to our fellow men as we are imparted to.

How beautiful the paradox of the restored Church: individual self-actualization/salvation/exaltation is impossible without community.

How beautiful the paradoxes of the Gospel!

* I realize that I’m setting up sort of a straw man, but that’s only because I’ve heard it in this context and I think it’s all too prevalent, as well as faulty. Also, I’ve tended more and more to view political discussion as a dialectic: you need people on both sides mutually pointing out errors of the other side in order to achieve any progress and understanding, so I often try to provide another perspective.

** Remember that scene in “The Best Two Years” when the missionaries hand out as many Books of Mormon as possible? Is that effective preaching? No, but it’s the number HQ decided to see.

*** Excluding, ironically, Alma’s apparent anomalous self-baptism, in Mosiah 18 itself!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sherlock, Schools, and the Saints

It was brought to my attention the other day that a school district in Virginia removed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet” (which is, in fact, the very first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in the printed word!), meant as an introduction to the genre of mystery, from its sixth-grade literature curriculum due to a complaint that it was “derogatory toward Mormons.” (The full article can be read here.)

On one hand, I was happy about this article, for it shows that Mormons are garnering some sort of social acceptance, to the point that others are agreeing to treat us and our beliefs as equals. This is a large step forward from what still seems to be the standard of assuming Mormons to be so strange as to not warrant any valid defense (a characteristic common amidst reactions to what religious studies scholars identify as New Religious Groups). Indeed, I am sure there are many out there who would not only be apathetic about anti-Mormon material –no matter how non-factual, ahistorical or twisted- but would in fact view something “derogatory to Mormons” as positive. I am happy that Latter-day Saints are now joining the groups of whom criticism is to be especially monitored, that are treated as real people with sincere beliefs. Think of how the Civil Rights Movement helped to ostracize overt racism, or how anti-Semitism has been majorly quashed and is always sharply reprimanded if found. (Now we've got to extend this treatment across the board.)

On the other hand, I questioned whether removing the book was the best approach in regards to respecting Mormons and furthering the education of the students of the district. For one, I am wary of book censorship for a multitude of reasons (which I won’t address here, since they’re not the point, and which isn’t technically the issue at hand – “A Study in Scarlet” was not banned, but rather deemed inappropriate for that age, apparently supposing that older readers could deal with it more detachedly and skeptically). Another reason is my propensity to try to take the reins of controversies to provoke productive, educational conversation and dialogue. Given these misgivings, I decided to read the text for myself and evaluate the rightness of the decision. (If you want to see my analysis of the text, I present it below. My conclusion is after the second horizontal line, if you are uninterested in the details.)


The novella of 120 pages began with the truly entertaining introductions of the characters of Watson and Holmes, plunging them soon into a murder mystery that, of course, Holmes will solve. Holmes apprehends the murderer by page 60 – and up to this point, Mormons haven’t been mentioned at all. However, about fifty of the remaining sixty pages are dedicated to a loquacious, elaborate backstory taking place in the Great American Desert, in the “Land of the Saints.”

This portion of the text gets a few things right, and even treats some things in a kind light. For example, Doyle speaks of the persecutions the Saints endured that forced them westward and their great success at taming the uninhabitable desert, as well as mentioning a modest number of accurate proper names and minor details – Moroni, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the beehive as the emblem, 1847. However, beyond a few superficial spellings, the text demonstrates an uncaring lack of interest in doctrinal accuracy and a manipulation toward sensationalism in order to create an exotic backstory for the murder mystery.

Firstly, there are facts that are entirely fabricated. Doyle speaks of the “four principal elders” instead of the Twelve Apostles; has a Mormon say that they are the “chosen of the angel Moroni,” which is nonsensical; he has Brigham Young riding in a wagon of “great size” and “gaudiness and smartness”; Doyle presents polygamy as having been practiced openly and commonly on the earliest westward trek; this same fictionalized Brigham forces a wanderer into conversion as an alternative to being left to die, and later speaks as if polygamy were not only an option but instead enforced upon all Mormon men, even quoting a purported (and utterly imaginary) “thirteenth rule of the code of the sainted Joseph Smith” (whose voice was “the voice of God), which says, “Let every maiden of the true faith marry one of the elect; for if she wed a Gentile, she commits a grievous sin” (I want to clarify again: this is not LDS doctrine. If anything, it makes me think of the falsified Bible verses from the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds"). While many of these inaccuracies could be passed off as mere misinformation or necessarily extrapolation because of a dearth of widely-available information on Mormons in Doyle’s England, certainly the exaggeration and extrapolation develop a caricature of the LDS Church meant to emphasize strangeness and exoticism, lacking in nuance and truth, to an even more ignorant audience.

Notwithstanding the relatively minor black marks against the story by the above, there are some aspects that are blatantly slanderous. The news article chose to include the following passage as an example of things potentially derogatory to Mormons:

(John Ferrier) had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible. He had to seal his mouth on the subject, however, for to express an unorthodox opinion was a dangerous matter in those days in the Land of the Saints.

This, however, is only one character’s viewpoint, and one that actually says little about Mormons (and, in all truth, is probably held by a good number of the parents of the students in the class that would have been reading this), besides that final sinister note about “dangerous” dissention. What Doyle said is much, much worse, including this paragraph, which follows the one cited above:

Yes, a dangerous matter -- so dangerous that even the most saintly dared only whisper their religious opinions with bated breath, lest something which fell from their lips might be misconstrued, and bring down a swift retribution upon them. The victims of persecution had now turned persecutors on their own account, and persecutors of the most terrible description. Not the Inquisition of Seville, nor the German Vehmgericht, nor the secret societies of Italy, were ever able to put a more formidable machinery in motion than that which cast a cloud over the state of Utah.

Yes. Doyle says that the Mormons were more insidious and cruel than the Spanish Inquisition and the Mafia, clarifying that “the man who held out against the Church vanished away” – that the church summarily, extrajudicially executed people who merely held different opinions, no matter whether those people belonged to the LDS faith or not! (This is specifically prohibited in Doctrine and Covenants 134, if anyone would think they would need evidence.) Moreover, on the following page it says that they didn’t only do this to stifle “misgivings” but also to steal women (by murdering their families!) for the “harems” of the leadership. One can't even travel the roads of Doyle’s Utah without express permission from the highest leaders of the Church.

I can recognize the influence of Foucaultian power in silencing dissent, and the LDS Church with its centralized prophetic authority probably has a particular predilection toward a kind of enforced unanimity, but this is no different than any other organization based on a unified leadership or common principles (think about other churches –how many schisms are there in American Protestantism?- and political parties). And despite the worst excesses of polygamy, a “Danite Band, or the Avenging Angels” was never sent out to harvest women through assassination (this alleged conspiracy is depicted in this segment of the novella, and the love interest of the murderer is kidnapped and married off to the son of a Mormon leader).


The novel succeeds in presenting a sensationalized, fictionalized version of mid-19th Century Utah Mormon culture, replete with details that would have been comfortable in any explicitly anti-Mormon literature at the time (which was almost always just as fictitious and tabloidish, if not more). While we might sometimes excuse a Victorian taste for florid exaggeration and exoticism as the relic of another age, when such a treatment, as the original new article pointed out, is students’ “first inaccurate introduction to an American religion,” it becomes unacceptable frill. First impressions are important, especially because humans have been shown to hold onto false beliefs –even if later proven false- with a particular unconscious tenacity. And as much as I would like to use this opportunity to correct misconceptions about Mormonism both in the novel and real life, I recognize that the purpose of a sixth-grade literature class is not to discuss relatively obscure historical facts (or theories) that have already spawned much heated debate amidst historians (especially when they have little understanding of how history is studied or written), nor is it necessarily the place for me to teach about my religion (though I would love to do so). The purpose of the class is to teach literature, and I fully support trading “A Study for Scarlet” for another, more apropos Sherlock Holmes novel, one that did not have fully half of it occupied by disproportionally damaging material that was inserted merely to lend an unusual (and unnecessary!) background to what is otherwise “an old-standing and romantic feud,” and one which would introduce the mystery genre just as well, if not better. In short, the effort expended in repairing the damage would be disproportionate to the gains of reading the novel. Even Sherlock Holmes recognizes the tangentiality of Mormons to the plot. I’m glad we’re listening to his assessment.

That said, I’d still recommend the story. Just skip from the end of the first part to the last two chapters. :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

On Scholaristas: The Mythological Monolithic Male

After a discussion about this article with a friend, she encouraged me to write a guest post for a group blog at which she posts. While the full post can be found here, here is an excerpt:

"In short, my gripe is rooted deeper than assumptions made and accepted mindlessly about male sexuality – it’s about assumptions made and accepted mindlessly about gender (or sex) in general. (However, few seem to protest when such assumptions are made about men, whereas an endless history of discrimination against women (justly) has primed people to react against such assumptions about women.) Whether it be that women are inherently more spiritually sensitive or nurturing than men or that men are innately predisposed to or enabled for leadership (let alone pretty much dismissing men as essentially “lusty lions,” as one blogger put it in her protest against such statements), such assumptions are harmful and handicapping in the end."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dealing in Absolutes: Definitely Not Only for Sith

Back to the blog! I apologize for the hiatus, but hopefully I’ll keep it going now.

So, a few days ago I had quite a long conversation with two other interns (who, like me, are in Turkey for the summer, working at an English-language summer camp for Turkish high schoolers), one that could provide me with enough fodder for at least a dozen blog posts – and perhaps it will even reach that number!

The conversation started as they asked me questions about the LDS faith, eventually settling on what I have found is viewed as the most singularly peculiar, readily visible uniqueness of Latter-day Saints: the injunction against tea and coffee, and whether drinking the aforementioned beverages constitutes a sin. (1) Regardless of the particular issue at hand, however, the discussion turned to one general topic: whether it was at all acceptable to consider someone’s actions or beliefs to be “right” or “wrong”.

They argued that the very use of the words “right” and “wrong” was misguided and harmful – that there was no way to determine the moral value of an action of epistemological correctness of a belief, and that to claim such ability was presumptuous and offensive. Instead, we must simply recognize that there are “different” values, nothing universal. To claim that an action (like premarital sex) is a sin, or to posit a belief (like “Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world”) as a universal axiom, is unacceptable, and I was berated for asserting such things and for wariness to respond to questions to which the answers would be, in their opinion, evidence of intolerance or closed-mindedness. Even more egregious was my assertion that I believed some things to be “wrong” because I believed that God had forbidden them; who was I to know the will of God? (And, implicitly, who was God to condemn?) Later on in the conversation, however, it was revealed that the two of them believed, to different extents, in two principles that they thought universally applicable and laudable: tolerance and equality. When I asked about their moral evaluation of cultures where such things are opposed, they showed the same aversion to answers that I had earlier. We all in the end had axioms of behavior and belief; they just had different bases and forms. (2, 3)

I summarize the conversation so I can revisit various ideas from it as I explore them in subsequent posts. Now, however, I would like to address why I insisted on using the black-and-white, perhaps inflammatory terms “right” and “wrong” instead of an ecumenical “different” or “(not) what I would do, (but okay anyway)” in the conversation. Such adamancy might seem strange in few of my efforts to consider nuance and do what I can not to judge actions based on my flawed conceptions (of course, “effort” is the operative word here – I know that I, as an imperfect being with imperfect knowledge, fail miserably much of the time, and must constantly ask forgiveness). However, despite the necessity to acknowledge the incomprehensible complexity of life, the fact remains that “right” and “wrong” are categories that exist inescapably and inextricably in human society, amidst all political groups and cultures. I would be interested to see if there is anyone who could imagine a society where such categories are not used, and what such a society would look like. I, for one, doubt that that would be plausible.

A prime location in which to find claims about absolute truth, moral and epistemological, is the field of religion. Indeed, I would say it is a fundamental aspect of any religion that it makes some uncompromising truth claims. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. There is no god but God and Mohammad is His Prophet. If I am Christian, there has to be at least some belief in the centrality of Jesus Christ to the soteriological history of the world, and it is dubious whether removing supernatural connotations would still allow oneself to be considered religiously “Christian”. Many go so far as to proclaim that confession of the 325 A.D. Nicene Creed is a necessary part of being Christian. To become a Latter-day Saint, I have to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, that He called Joseph Smith to be a prophet and that the modern leaders of the Church are his successors in the prophetic calling. To be a Muslim questioning the unity and supremacy of God would be paradoxical. Et cetera. These are unequivocal statements of “right” and “wrong”. These are non-negotiable. Without them, the religions would not exist – at least, in no form we could recognize.

To refuse to permit the existence of beliefs in absolute truth is tantamount to pulling the rug out from under human civilization; it is such beliefs that fuel any motion beyond mere survival (and even there one finds the belief “survival is good” to be a guiding light). They determine our values, our priorities, our goals and purpose, providing an “anchor to the souls of men,” to paraphrase the Book of Mormon’s statement about faith (Ether 12:4). Admitting that there are ideas that are taken as absolute truths, as “rights” and “wrongs”, is the first step toward building a more accurate and holistic view of society, and in my opinion to sowing the seeds of peace. To deny it is a futile and illusory exercise, and denouncing it as evil, as Obi-Wan Kenobi does to Anakin Skywalker in the Revenge of the Sith line that spawned this post's title, adds unfair condemnation to mere denial.

In my next post, I will address ways in which we can engage these beliefs about absolute truth in environments where such beliefs come into conflict.

(1) I want to treat this issue in later posts, including whether such a prohibition is meant to be universal, and what to do about the pesky inconsistency with not forbidding energy drinks, caffeinated sodas, and the oh-so-popular and oh-so-habit-forming Argentine mate.

(2) I will deal with the concept of testimony – a word ubiquitously used in the LDS tradition to signify “a affirmation of personal spiritual knowledge” – in a later post.

(3) If they are reading this, and if I misrepresent their point of view at all, I hope they will correct me. ;)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Who said anything about safe?

Oftentimes I’ve met the arguments that the only saving grace (pun intended) of any religion is the way it trains people to be nice, productive citizens. Beyond that, many argue, religion is just crackpot, unbelievable myth. A personally significant and recent example of this is the recent “The Book of Mormon” musical on Broadway, whose authors have stated repeatedly that they believe the Latter-day Saint faith is absurd and ridiculous, but it is excused by the desire it instills in its adherents to help others. Not only do they intentionally misrepresent and distort LDS doctrine to reinforce the general American stereotype that Mormons invariably and inescapably believe blindly, but they fail to recognize that the narratives and doctrines of the Church play an irreplaceable role in forming the very habits they praise. The niceness is a symptom of religion: take away the religion, and its symptoms might disperse. Besides, there is no religion that is merely about making people nice. Indeed, beliefs often run counter to what we would expect or desire of them, as individuals and cultures; yet these inconveniences cannot be ignored without sacrificing the meaningful heart, the religion itself.

This is when I say: “Aslan is not a tame lion.”

A Narnian saying, the title of my blog refers to Aslan, the leonine creator, sustainer and savior of C.S. Lewis’s fantasy world, emphasizing the point that Aslan is not to be controlled by the expectations or wishes of others, and though he is “good”, he is not “safe”. Aslan, however, is Lewis’s representation of how Jesus Christ would appear on another world; and thus Lewis explains through allegory that the Christian religion is not “tame”: Christians cannot domesticate their religion or their God, making them conform to their personal schedules, tastes, or contemporary societal mores. Christianity, if it is to be a salvific force, must wield more power over us than we might want to let it. The wind blows where it pleases, we cannot tell from where it has come and where it is going, but we must follow. Our task, then, is not to delimit God’s power or His commandments’ force by boxing them up, but to accept them as He gives them, striving to know the mind of God but never supposing that we do. And thus religion shapes individual lives, and communities, and societies, in subtle and powerful ways, ways that have at their origin the fact that, for some reason, human belief actually influences our actions, and if we believe in a religion, we bring upon ourselves obligations: religion is not tame.

As evidenced the above quote, my interest in science fiction and fantasy means that those topics will crop up in any conversation with me. Indeed, another specific term I use when discussing religion’s demands is actually gleaned from an opening scene of the classic 1984 fantasy film “The Neverending Story”. The main character, a (for all intents and purposes) nerdy tween named Bastian, has just taken refuge from pursuing bullies in an old bookstore and is chatting with the cantankerous proprietor, Mr. Koreander, about the book the latter is reading, itself entitled The Neverending Story:

Mr. Koreander: Your books are safe. While you're reading them, you get to become Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe.

Bastian: But that's what I like about 'em.

Mr. Koreander: Ahh, but afterwards you get to be a little boy again.

Bastian: Wh-what do you mean?

Mr. Koreander: Listen. Have you ever been Captain Nemo, trapped inside your submarine while the giant squid is attacking you?

Bastian: Yes.

Mr. Koreander: Weren't you afraid you couldn't escape?

Bastian: But it's only a story.

Mr. Koreander: That's what I'm talking about. The ones you read are safe.

Bastian: And that one isn't?

Throughout the movie, as Bastian gets inextricably involved in the The Neverending Story (which, after the above scene, he steals), he finds out what exactly Mr. Koreander means. It is the same with the religious person: to him or her, the myth is not something distant, something that can be shelved between leatherbound covers and ignored to collect dust; rather, he is part of the myth, playing a part in a cosmic drama whose consequences determine, at the very least, the wellbeing of the believer’s soul, and, at most, the salvation of the world. The myth is real. It is not “safe”.

My main purpose in writing this blog is to explore the interactions between religion and other spheres of human experience - politics, society, culture, and so forth - exploring the multitudinous ways that religion does or should or might shape our world and ourselves. I will indubitably include personal reflections on living my faith. Naturally, much of the blog will be relate to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I do not expect to limit myself to my religious belief and tradition alone. As a notice, my other interests will inevitably seep in: for example, there might be some exploration of religious or societal themes in various fictional worlds, but these, I hope, will enrich discussion and provide fodder for contemplation. Once I get going, I will probably be interested in hearing suggestions for topics as well.

Another important note is that some of my reticence to blogging has been the tendency I have seen on the internet of honest questions or sincere curiosity being answered or drowned out by nonsensical and unproductive bickering. I do not want this blog to be a forum for incendiary arguments. Anyone who would like to comment must recognize that others will disagree, and incendiary or intentional contentious posts are liable not to be approved. I want to have civil, enriching, thoughtful discussions and respectful dissent; I ask for your help in assuring that.