Things To Act
Monday, August 16, 2004
Unity and Division
The ideas in the this post have been processing for awhile, and still may not have reached a coherent conclusion, but what the heck...

So a couple of weeks ago I was having a long discussion with a roommate about various stuff, which touched on:

*A tension in the Church between adapting to the needs of the individual and maintaining unity in the Church as a whole. For instance, the home teaching message is supposed to be individually adapted to the needs of the person being home taught, yet it is also the same message churchwide. Go too far in adapting to the individual and the unity falls apart; if I ignore the HT message on divorce as irrelevant to single students and substitute something completely different, it's easy to fall into trap of never talking about what the 1P wants us to talk about. On the other hand, if I rigidly teach the divorce message without taking into account the needs of the home teachee (who might be distressed about marriage, or concerned with his own parents' divorce, or something), it would be easy to offend someone, or just alienate him by never teaching a message that addresses any of his concerns.

*The question of what the Church could do to more fully use the internet. One idea discussed was the fact that the internet allows virtual communities to form in ways not limited by geography. The standard ward unit of geographical focus unites people along one common element--where they live. This makes some things easier (almost anything having to do with face-to-face interaction) and some things harder (many special needs can't be met by many wards). The net could allow the formation of communities along other common elements. It already does in many ways--singles looking for eternal mates, apologists looking for the latest FARMS stuff, bloggernaclers doing what we do, etc. However, none of this (except some family history stuff) really takes place under the official direction of the Church. These virtual communities allow needs to be met that weren't being met at the ward level--but the danger is that the virtual community--with its unofficial status--might start to compete with and damage the official ward community.

CS Lewis points out that an effective tactic Satan uses to keep us from living our religion is to get us to make it "Christianity and" or to form into schisms within the Church. Eugene England points out the importance of the geographic ward in forcing us to interact with, serve, and be served by those who are very different from us. Davis Bell points to what he sees as a troubling tendency of some of us in the Bloggernacle to start condescending to non-internet junkies.

This is a hard problem. I think that real benefits can come from 'subgroups' within the Church. Subgroups can help us connect with people who understand our special problems, can give us access to information not available through other means, can allow us to pursue talents in settings in which they will be appreciated, etc. Subgroups also can compete with the main group, can fall into error, and can magnify their own importance out of proportion. A big reason, in my understanding, behind the centralization and correlation movement in the mid-20th century was that the official structure of the Church had become so complicated that different auxiliaries and organizations were competing with each other, and the Church couldn't act efficiently as a whole. On the other hand, the Church has experimented with subgroups with varying degrees of official or tacit approval (the Genesis group comes to mind, and even special units such as student, singles, or language wards are in effect subgroups outside the normal pattern).

About the only idea I can come up with to keep things under control is to be careful of excessive polarization. Restated, we should try to keep our subgroup affiliations limited to positive identifications, not negative. In other words, define our interests by what we are interested in, not by what others are not. I may be interested in textual criticism of the BOM, but that doesn't imply that others have to be as well. Plenty of people with be exalted without caring that the 'feeling' in 1N8 should be 'pressing.' My interest is not bad as long as it does not turn into criticism of others' lack of interest.

The worry I have with dichotomies such as liberal v. conservative or Utah Mormon vs. Better-Than-A-Utah Mormon (or whatever the opposite is) is that they quickly seem to degenerate into us-vs-them. Instead of 'how refreshing that someone approaches some of my concerns the same way' it seems to turn into 'look what those awful [Not Us]ers are doing now,' or 'why everyone should be a [Us].' The stereotype created by the dichotomy does have limited utility, but often such utility is drowned out by the damage done by the misapplication of the stereotype.

On many key points, essential right answers exist, and on these points we must be united. On other key points, right answers probably exist, but we lack data on how we should be united. On still other points, right answers probably don't exist, and we can celebrate our differences. Only in the first category do serious differences really rise to anything more serious than 'interesting,' and only those in authority are called to do anything about those differences.

As we sort through the other categories, finding the answers (to the ambiguous issues) that work for us and celebrating the way communities can meet our needs, I think we must be careful not to elevate the less essential over the more essential.

Monday, August 09, 2004
Utah AG Candidates Oppose SSM Amendment
Desnews. SLTrib.

Interesting issues raised. Given the MO 70-30 margin of victory, passage in Utah looks certain (85+ margins wouldn't be out of the question), except for the possible overreaching in the second part.

My sense at the moment, though I don't have the legal training of the candidates for AG, is that the amendment would certainly bar the Legislature from enacting full-scale civil unions, but not necessarily bar the Legislature from doing anything to make it easier to grant "hospital visitation, emergency medical decision-making and inheritance" rights. As long as a bundle of rights is associated with marriage, making some rights that were formerly part of that bundle explicitly no longer conditional on marriage should be legal. Of course, the Legislature would have to actually do it.

My sense of the candidates' position is that the amendment would cause a lot of chaos (dissolving common-law marriages, etc). My sense is that it likely would, unless the Legislature acts to mitigate such chaos. One's views of the desirability of the amendment, then, would seem to hinge on whether such chaos is necessarily bad enough to scuttle the desirability of the amendment, and the likelihood of the Legislature averting it if so.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004
MO SSM Amendment Passes
Around 70-30.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
The Monopoly of the Daily Universe Erodes... blogs compete to be equally ignored sources of BYU gossip. Nate Cardon has set up a BYU blog ring. Though 'ring' is perhaps too strong a term for only having two members so far. If someone else joins, we could at least get up to 'triangle.'

Age and Spiritual Dynamism
Grasshopper has an interesting post on the meaning of death. In his comments, I note that Mormon often seems to take the view that death is a valuable reminder to us to be prepared to face final judgment at any time. But is this how we approach death today?

After all, society has a fairly low death rate. At least in the 'BYU student' demographic, deaths are rare enough that each one is news, though actually knowing the person is so rare that it isn't personal news. If death is supposed to be a reminder, it doesn't seem to happen often enough to be as effective as for the Nephites (who had low technology and constant war to contend with). [Of course, the logical solution, raising the death rate, is frowned upon.]

It occurs to me to wonder if this has practical consequences for the way we view sin and repentance. I find that it's easy for me to think of some spiritually admirable figure (bishop, stake president, GA, etc), 'of course, he's had decades to work on becoming that spiritually strong.' The corollary is, when viewing my own faults, is to think 'well, hopefully I'll get that resolved by the time I'm President Hinckley's age.'

Is taking such a long view a problem. Does our tendency to emphasize conversion as a long process go too far (generally, I think it far healthier to emphasize process over dramatic moment)? Or are our days prolonged to give us this time?

Other possible corollaries to this line of thought: Is one disadvantage of having primarily older church leaders that it makes it harder for us to see models of dynamic conversion in younger examples? Does the fact that so many people died relatively young in earlier eras imply that our course is fairly set when we are fairly young?

This Just In...
"BYU football not in top 25"
--front page, Daily Universe, 2 August.

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