Before any of you go calling my bishop and expressing concern, I'd like to explain a little more. In her comment to my last post, Cristin said, "the other blogs I'm reading in Google Reader are all about how awesome going to the temple and church activities are...." Here's my take on those things: Temple? The best. Church activities? The worst.
I've written before about my sliding scale of doctrinal believability, which basically says the further away a statement is from the scriptures and conference, the less I believe it. I'm sorry, but I've sat through too many sacrament meeting talks that, with a five-minute visit to snopes.com, would have been gutted to merely, "When the bishop asked me after church last Sunday to speak this week, I wanted to say no.... In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."
I probably have written before (but I'm too lazy to find it for a hyperlink right now) about my idea that a large portion of what we consider "the church" is, in my opinion, just the result of the Restoration making use of a boy raised in a 19th-century Protestant tradition. We use pianos and organs in church and look down our noses at churches that use drums, but if Joseph Smith had been from a culture with a history of percussion instruments in religious and cultural settings, we'd use drums in church and no one would care. The church was set up by a bunch of people who already had a common notion of what a church should look like, and so they followed that pattern, but if anyone thinks the true gospel in Moses' * day resembled a Presbyterian meeting as much as it does in our day, you're not thinking very hard.
Along those lines, one of the things that made its way into our church by virtue of being part of pre-existing Christian tradition is a complete inability to trust people with their own time. Evidently I'm either at church or having adulterous sex and smoking a cigarette. Remember, it was within our lifetime that the consolidated meeting schedule was unveiled, and testimony meetings (categorized as the worst idea in the history of the church by some pundits) used to be on Tuesday afternoons.
You can tell how much a particular person subscribes to this "you can't be trusted alone" theory by how excited they are for additional church activities. Use this convenient test: does the idea of a "cultures of the world" ward activity fill them with giddy anticipation rather than haunting dread? Now, it's true that I liked ward activities as a teenager, but that was because it was an excuse for me to see Persephone. It was like a date catered by the Elders Quorum. But now that she's my wife, I'd much rather spend time at home with her than sitting on a folding chair and eating cold green bean salad.
Part of what I hate about Deseret Book is the way it appears designed to make money off these guileless Mormons. It's the ward activity fan club crowd that shells out $28.95 for yet another book about the Book of Isaiah instead of actually reading the Book of Isaiah, which is available for free from this website.
Leaders are not exempt from this way of thinking. The more your leaders support meetings, especially meetings about meetings, the more they don't trust you with your own time. When they show up at a meeting with a list of things to talk about and no timeframe in which to finish, they don't trust you with your own time. When every Saturday has some church activity, they don't trust you with your own time. After all, your job keeps you busy on weekdays, and church takes all of Sunday, but allowing you to have your entire Saturday to yourself is just asking you to take up drinking or possibly try a marijuana cigarette which, if rumor proves true, kids these days are calling a "joint."
It is nearly a certainty that the worst offender in this department is your ward's Relief Society president. Man might have not been created for the Sabbath, as some contend, but your Relief Society president will argue heatedly that women were created for the Relief Society.
Last month when a group of five regular service project attendees met at the house of a non-active ward member to rebuild her backyard fence, I realized that modern religion is a clearinghouse whereby the unconscionable and the guilty get to meet and take advantage of one another. The unconscionable get to take whatever they want, and the guilty get to feel better about their faults because they allowed someone to abuse them.
My sister was locking up her church building one night when a woman pulled up in a truck and demanded "stuff." "We don't have anything," the woman said. "We need diapers and food and clothing. We don't have any of that stuff and we need someone to give it to us." Just another American making use of the current state of organized religion. We've gone from "give your time and money to the gospel" to "giving your time and money IS the gospel." And although I couldn't articulate most of these ideas when I was seven, I could feel them in my bones, and that's why I wish I'd had the presence of mind to steal a car to avoid church.
* = I'm totally following correct apostrophe usage.
REAPPRAISAL (Apr. 2012)