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November 20, 2003

Oh lord, won’t you buy me …
Posted by Teresa at 12:50 AM *

Posted by John M. Ford to the Oh lord thread’s discussion of Mormon liturgical costume:

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me Some Saintly P.J.s
I can’t wear this T-shirt
At the End of Days
I’ll pay any price, but
I ain’t got eBay’s
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me
Some Saintly P.J.s

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me
Those I’ve left behind
I’m sure my precursors
Were all sweet and kind
I’ve got every name here
That Google can find
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me
Those I’ve left behind

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me
A place in the Host
I don’t need a star, Lord,
A big moon at most
To jam with yourself and
The Kid and the Ghost
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me
A place in the Host
Comments on Oh lord, won't you buy me ...:
#1 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 02:41 AM:

I just received this note in my inbox:

If you didn't watch the new southpark today, you would have missed
the Story of Joseph smith, told through Trey Parkers own
view. . . .him being a fellow fallen =0) It was funny and made me
giggle, but, it actually didn't slander them horribly. . .kinda
shocked, actually. Though, the more amusing part, was explaining to
Robert parts of the story that he didn't know, because he's not a
fallen. . . .. .man, how long does it take to get over

I'm certain there's a net source of repeats for Southpark...

#2 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 03:05 AM:

Okay, the episode played at 10 tonight, but will rerun at 10 on Saturday, on Comedy Central, as announced on the website:

Episode 712: All About Mormons?
A Mormon kid moves to South Park and Stan has to kick his ass. But when Stan and his dad meet their new Mormon neighbors, they become fascinated with how genuinely nice they are. While the other boys mock Stan relentlessly for wimping out, the rest of the town become Mormons.

It looks like it should be available for download next week also.

#3 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 05:08 AM:

I taped it. Am willing to forward a copy to Teresa for review, if someone else doesn't slip her one, first.

I'm not well-versed in Mormon liturgy, but I was wondering why they didn't mention the Magic Spectacles in explaining how Joseph Smith was able to translate the gold tablets.

PS: Anyone know if Casa Bonita is a real restaurant in Denver?

#4 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 09:11 AM:

Casa Bonita is quite real.

And I'm going to have this song stuck in my head for the rest of the week.

#5 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 10:48 AM:

RE: The Magic Spectacles - I honestly was really surprised the first time I heard this one, because we Mo-tykes are raised to believe that Joseph had two stones called the Urim and Thummim bound together with a breastplate of sorts. (Source: Introduction to Book of Mormon/Testimony of Joseph Smith). Other sources (definitely NOT cited in Sunday School) from the time indicate that Joseph had what he called peep stones and that they were placed into a hat, and he would stare into the hat and tell Oliver Cowdry, his scribe, what he had "translated". I'm not sure where the spectacles come into the picture, unless it was a misinterpretation of the Urim and Thummim part of the story, but I've since seen this version circulated many places on the interweb.

I want to see the South Park episode you guys mentioned. If only I had known what it was going to be....since my boyfriend and I didn't have plans for last night and were aimlessly vegging all evening.

#6 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:37 AM:

Jeez. I haven't been able to stop singing that darn song since I first read it.
Seriously (said she): I'm learning so much about the Mormons from you, Teresa, it's like sitting in a REALLY REALLY entertaining theology class--which are rare as hen's teeth (so it's a cliche, so what?). I am truly grateful.

#7 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:56 AM:

Mike, Weird Al Yankovic's got nothing on you...

#8 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 12:22 PM:

Casa Bonita was mentioned on South Park? Now that's hilarious.

Yep, it's real. I've been there on more than one occasion. What part did it play in the episode?

#9 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 12:22 PM:

I was impressed by how Sunday-School-Ready the whole episode was. Really, if you took away the veneer of sarcasm, some of the cuss words and the last two minutes of the show, that could be used in the missionary discussions. In fact, the "lighting" in the sacred grove scene where J. Smith was praying for enlightenment directly referenced a painting I remember staring at for untold hours of boredom - er, reverent contemplation - I spent in church.

I didn't think either of the South Park writers were mormons - I thought one had grown up amongst mormons, and dated a few. At any rate, it was an embarrassingly accurate introduction to mormonism.

#10 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 02:33 PM:

You know, at times like these, I become mildly wistful that I was raised Southern Baptist. I mean, yeah, mostly they're nuttier than fruitcakes but it's a very mundane sort of nuttiness. Hellfire and damnation mostly over and over and over. Nothing cool like special undies (with fig leaves!) or Magic Spectacles or stuff like that.

Of course when I was a kid, it was Roman Catholic I wanted to be. All that neat ritual! (I am a sucker for ritual and so suffered mightily as a Baptist.) Of course it would help if I could bring myself to believe in God...


#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 03:33 PM:

When LDS kids go to camp, are their temple undies embroidered with their names in the Desert Alphabet?

#12 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 04:35 PM:

This thread is stuck in my head, too, and a little bit in my craw, and I've been trying to figure out why. The obvious reason is that I'm Mormon, and though it has been a long time since my personal beliefs would pass muster with the orthodoxy police and I'm long past believing that my underwear is magic, I still love a lot of people who believe exactly that. So it's partly just taking (mild) offense at an affront to my tribe. But also I'm wondering why Mormonism is ok to make fun of; after all, I imagine we'd be having a very different discussion if people were auctioning off ritual garb that was held to be a sacred part of some Native American ceremony. It's not just here, of course--"This American Life" and other medium-highbrow entertainments have pretty frequent appearances of Mormon characters who are completely ridiculous and (therefore, I suppose) thoroughly ridiculed. On declining alcohol at a college professor's house, I was once asked "What are you, Mormon or something?" as though it were a hilarious impossibility that a reasonably bright college student could exist in the same body as a believing Mormon. Even people who are terribly respectful of some religious beliefs or who, at least, would be embarrassed to admit their real views of many religions, feel pretty comfortable mocking Mormons. I've come up with a list of possible reasons, in no particular order:
1) Mormonism is like the goofy version of Americanism--persecuted religious minority flees oppressive government, founds thriving society in the wilderness, then becomes a caricature of middle America in all its nicey-nice, Jello-eating, Republican-voting, scrapbooking glory. What's funny about Mormonism is what's funny about America.
2)Mormonism is, under its veneer of Americanness, actually nothing like America. It retains elements of very very old European religions that it no longer understands, and it's that old religion (or the peculiar Mormon misunderstanding of it) that seems funny to hip modern folk.
3) Mormonism upsets our class prejudices about religion--although we are accepting of people who are not well-educated or affluent and are devoutly religious, we can explain that religion away as ignorance, assuming that if those people had a chance to go to graduate school, they would become nice Episcopalians or Unitarians. Many Mormons are highly educated and still very devout. Mormons are funny because they ought to know better than to cling to such weird beliefs. As Anne Lamott says "Mormons are weirder than they have to be."
4) In this forum in particular, there are many "recovering" Mormons for whom this is an exercise in the form of making fun of crazy old Uncle Harold--who can believe I'm related (or used to be) to these wackos?
5) Believing in magic underwear, peepstones (whether in spectacles or in hats), angels with disappearing gold books, et flipping cetera, is just plain funny.

After parsing it out, I'm inclined to accept #5 as the most likely explanation, but I'd still be interested in the comments of this august group.

#13 ::: Kris Hasson-Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 04:39 PM:

I think you're underestimating your explanation #4, since Teresa herself is a recovering Mormon, who wrote a most excellent essay about the time she was excommunicated.

#14 ::: James D Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 06:11 PM:

Kristine, you might want to read God and I by Miss Teresa. BTW, I wouldn't say that Miss Teresa is a recovering Mormon. I think she's recovered. She has a new file folder. I've seen it.

#15 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 06:41 PM:

Kristine: some of us also laugh at Scientologists, who were created by an even more blatant con man than Smith (who has never been quoted as saying that the best way to get rich was to make up a religion). And Native Americans at least have a heritage that their beliefs are bound up in; some of us would snicker at a WASP who professed Native American beliefs. (Which at least have (from what I've read) some plausible restraint in current practices; Mormonism from the outside looks like a hodge-podge of the noisier notions of many other religions thrown together with massive implausibilities.

Maybe if the Mormon establishment gets to be as powerful as the Catholic I'll be more inclined to cry than laugh. (I wish it were funnier, but I'm watching Boston's archbishop start making nice to Voice of the Faithful the day after the state supreme court rules that barring gays from marrying is unconstitutional and a few days after various church figures have announced they'll come down on politicians who profess Catholicism but vote their constituency instead of their church, and I'm not laughing.)

James: a new folder!?! Tell us more! Is it a folder of the officially iniquitous? (Or am I just being even more dense than usual....)

#16 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 06:46 PM:

I wouldn't attach that much weight to explanation number 4 at least as phrased here - our hostess seems quite proud of her mother and say students who went on to success at the Y - I'd suggest an addition to the list that there is a (perhaps not fully surfaced?) notion that the relative obscurity of a mystery religion combined with the use of Intellectual Property copyright and such (after the manner of other groups perhaps?) to obscure matters of governance (e.g. why 12 step groups don't much meet on Church property though Methodists seem to love AA) as well as doctrine to make the LDS Church seem fair game.

For example I tend to razz Unitarian Universalists who claim whatever antiquity of doctrine comes from association with Michael Servatus and criticism of John Calvin without acknowledging that Servatus would be appalled by the current beliefs and practices of most UU congregations - UU Sunday schools mostly get the facts of Servatus death wrong and quite deliberately wrong, blaming Calvin who according to most historical records did his best to save Servatus and get him out of town rather than to do anything to hasten Servatus death.

That is in some sense the current LDS Church is fair game for detachment with love.

#17 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 06:52 PM:

I can only speak for myself, because I'm afraid I'm too close to the subject to ever get the "big picture".

I, too, am a "recovered mormon" (which sounds like I've been re-upholstered). My parents are still faithful, and I love them dearly. I recently had a bit of a falling out with my dad, due to sending him the link to the Arnold Friburg commentary. (Dad used to be a free-thinking mormon, once upon a time, but that is a story for a different forum).

Aside from just not believing, the biggest issue I have with that religion is its very secretiveness. Yeah, yarmulkes are kind of funny, but many Jews wear them every day, and if you ask one of them why, they'll explain.

Additionally, there is the issue of the great changes in doctrine, and subsequent denial that anything has changed. I am just a skosh above 30, but by the time I reached high school, I knew (for example) that black people were black because they were less righteous in the pre-existence, and that if I were ever attacked by a rapist, I should resist even if it cost me my life, since the loss of "virtue" was, like murder, a sin which could never be un-done. And yet when I confronted various church members about this later, I was told "We never taught that!" When confronted with proof, there was much hemming and hawing about current prophets having precedence, blah blah blah. According to their theology, those beliefs were never wrong, they're just currently more correct. And we don't talk about them.

Conversely, when I was investigating other religions, I asked my friend's mother (an Episcopal priest) about the origins of the Episcopal church. She said, "Well, in the early 16th century, Henry VIII wanted a divorce from his wife..."

To be fair, for the first hundred or so years of Anglicanism, you could be arrested (and possibly accused of treason) for not at least making the outward appearances of conforming to that faith. And I suspect that in 300 or so years, Mormons will have come to the same matter-of-fact attitude about their roots.

#18 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 07:00 PM:

I wouldn't go overboard on a long history for the restraint to be found in Native American practices - I can't speak for the internalized beliefs but I can say that within the memory of folks now living fertility rites were practiced in the boundaries of the lower 48 that had more in common with a Hell's Angel initiation than with anything known to happen in a Mormon Temple (then again there's an aging UU congregation that has stories of a wild youth as well but perhaps with less sense of the women as property).

Outside the boundaries of the lower 48 of course we have some rather bloodsoaked alters.

#19 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 08:07 PM:

Kristine: I think it's probably a combination of 1 and 5 myself. And I'm not so sure the conversation would be a lot different with a different religion substituted. This forum is full of a lot of very funny and irreverent people. Some even approac smart-assery.


#20 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 10:06 PM:

MKK: wholehearted agreement with the "very funny and irreverent"--I'd add smart, thoughtful, and probably another very to very funny. But I thought it was "smartasshood."

CHip: I'm not sure I understand your point about heritage.

Clark: Intellectual Reserve, Inc. hasn't been terribly successful at obscuring matters of governance. Despite their silly lawsuit, it's still pretty easy to get a copy of the Church Handbook of Instructions (if the Book of Ether didn't already put you to sleep--sheesh!) However, I agree with you and others who make the point about the secrecy of the hierarchy. I think it is, at best, one of many marks of an immature religion, or, at worst, a sign that members of the hierarchy are entirely motivated by fear of losing their power. (My personal inclination is to believe that the truth lies somewhere between, but...)

nerdycellist: I love the reupholstery image--picturing myself and various friends as couches with upholstery in various stages of disrepair, patching, and slipcovering! I'm the same age as you, with most of the same issues, though I'd add sexism and homophobia to the list of huge cultural and possibly doctrinal problems with Mormonism.

Thanks for the thoughtful responses and the link to Teresa's essay. I think, despite the ridiculous length of my previous comment that I didn't get at what's really bugging me. Here it is: it's one thing to make fun of religious culture, knick-knacks (I loved those threads), and even outlandish doctrine, but it seems to me that it's entirely different to actually desecrate objects people regard as sacred--the difference between Monty Python songs about transsubstantiation and actually taking the host and crushing it into the mud. For believing Mormons, selling temple clothing on eBay has to come close to that level of sacrilege, and it's hard for me to laugh at that, even though I'm pretty sure I could laugh myself sick at the southpark episode.

And I promise not to go on so long ever again!!

#21 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 11:48 PM:

I spend some time laughing at Judaism every single day. And though I'm not as observant as id like to be, I still believe quite strongly.

Of course, this is a respected Jewish tradition.
(That's EXACTLY what Nachmanides said!)

#22 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 12:09 AM:

Disagreeing just to be polite as is the nature of usenet - fwiw I am personally persuaded by observation there exist general authorities who never wanted power and never feared losing it for even the tiniest instant. I am led to believe the opposite may be true as well.

Moreover though there is a real sexism -nobody here needs my observations to substantiate that - still taking a definition of power to be as the Centurion described it, there are leaders of the Relief Society with more power to say go there and do this than women have in many other places.

I do maintain the result has been to obscure if not actually deny access at least in the sense that I find in somewhat casual and absolutely non-hostile conversations with say people in Rexburg the level of specific knowlege is much lower, and there are things they know but they're wrong about compared with talking Presbyterian Church-USA politics in say Jackson Mississippi. Perhaps as may be implied it is purely security by narcolepsy.

#23 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 08:52 AM:

Another reason people feel free to mock Mormons is that Mormons come around to their houses, in pairs, utterly uninvited, knock on the door and try to convert them. The LDS Church sends out missions to benighted countries like Britain and do this. I'm all for respecting other people's religions, but when people don't respect mine even to the point where they'll leave me alone, I see no obligation upon me not to giggle when things about theirs strike me as funny. I don't know if they appreciate how offensive and unacceptable this is -- I don't suppose they do or they'd stop doing it. I'm sure they convert some people by this method. They also alienate many others and make themselves look like a cult and the legitimate target of scorn.

So it's not a case of saying "These people wear funny underwear" it's "These people who interrupted us and tried to intrude into our homes to convert us to their religion wear funny underwear". The missionizing removes any sympathy and respect we might otherwise have for them.

#24 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 10:01 AM:

I think the fact that Mormons view Britain as "benighted" is one of few almost-redeeming features of their proselyting project--it would be far more offensive if they only went to Africa or other parts of the global South, wouldn't it?

And it isn't so much not respecting other people's religion as just earnestly believing everyone else is mistaken and will be happier if they are made to understand the truth--that's plenty offensive, but I still think it differs from intruding into sacred rituals in order to mock them. Knocking on the door of your house is grossly rude, but it's not the same as barging into your Sunday worship service to rip the crucifix off the wall and laugh at its grotesquerie.

That said, let me be clear that I think knocking on people's doors to try to convert them is boorish and stupid, and I wholeheartedly agree that it shouldn't be done.

And, in full backpedal mode, let me say that I didn't intend to end up being a Mormon apologist, or to hijack a perfectly pleasant and amusing discussion--sorry everybody.

#25 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 10:16 AM:

Kristine, I'm a never-practiced Catholic (got kicked out of Catechism; loooong story). I find all sorts of information about religion(s) fascinating. It's one of the ways I understand where people are "coming from".
The exposure I get in Teresa's discussions very useful because I would not feel comfortable questioning a Mormon about their religion; so much of it seems to hinge on secrecy it would feel rude. So I'm getting an education and I can then NOT be rude if I encounter a practising Mormon.

#26 ::: Kristine (again!) ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 10:35 AM:

Emma, I wouldn't advise asking a practicing Mormon questions unless you have a long time to listen and/or aren't afraid of two ill-informed 19-year-olds showing up on your doorstep, but any Mormon worth her salt would be thrilled to have you ask questions. Hardly any of Mormonism is secret, actually, only some of what happens in the temples (which are different from the regular churches where Saturday basketball games and Sunday meetings are held). And if your father was a freemason (I peeked at your website), you could find out much of what happens in the temples from him.

#27 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 11:33 AM:

Kristine --

This may sound a little odd, but you were just above doing (a mild form of) something that is a whole lot of why I don't like Mormonism.

It makes a virtue out of niceness, so that it is better to not upset anyone than to be present as the truth of yourself, even the carefully courteous truth of yourself.

Nice is not a virtue. (Kindness is a virtue.)

There's a narrow country, easily crossed, between the aweless shambling semblance of religion, used as a machine to demand social conformity and the subjugation of person, aspiration, and desire to an agenda that does you harm to the benefit of others, and a religion which makes social conformity a matter of the practice of its faith. I think the attempt to construct niceness -- the care to not offend, the desire to stay within the boundaries of the expected, the normal, and the done -- as a virtue is one of the things which pushes groups of people across that narrow country and into the loss of awe, with no good result.

[Incidentaly, this is not a company in which it is likely you will find anyone who is in anything resembling a good moral position to complain about being opinionated, expressing those opinions, or having opinions that could not properly be described as conformist.]

#28 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 12:35 PM:

Two notes here --

For those interested in Servetus I really recommmend LOST IN THE FLAMES, a book about his book (clark, have you read it? comments?).

I think part of why T listed the eBay link was a bit of a thrill at seeing this odd secret bit of Mormonism actually Made Public. She's made no secret about her Mormon past; she's made no secret of her enjoyment of ritual (her new file folder isn't in the same file cabinets as before). She hasn't repudiated family who still believe (and she, in my experience, considers Family incredibly important, both birth and chosen). Jo W seems to have hit on part of it -- if Mormons believe it's right to ring doorbells of perfect strangers and intrude on their lives, it's kinda fun to do the same back to them, metaphorically. And the analogies to the more recent American religion of Scientology are apt.


#29 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 02:21 PM:

I just might offer to feed any missionaries who report having cola poured on their heads but then I've been known to feed some who didn't.

Seems to me the big secrets have been exposed many times - what I'd like to see on Ebay is a complete set of all the blank copyset forms ever used in the community.

#30 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 03:52 PM:

Speaking as a catholic (reared Roman, mostly Anglican in practice, the Pope and I having some irreconcilable differences) I can say that (for all there has been much more) being giggled at is not the worst thing one can have happen.

I know a lot of Mormons (my chunk of the Army is full of 'em) and they are nice people. For the most part I don't talk about religion with them because (having looked into it) I find it wacky, and wacky in ways I can't accept (while I can accept the wackiness of my faith... transubstantian is a gret leap).

But when I listen to a pair of them discussing all the latest in archeologies to prove the existence of the civilisations referred to in the Book of Mormon, or read about barley in it (and have to accept the entirety of the finding and translation... which, as presented, leaves out mistranslation as an option for the references) it makes it all pretty hard to accept.

When the secretive aspects of the faith (and the Church is not always better than this) like the active effort to find anything which ever contradicted present doctrine (which allowed/caused the Church to be bamboozled by a, very good, forger; repeatedly, for years) are taken into account... well it all comes up less than tasty.

I can accept they have ideas which I find bothersome, even repugnant. But merely being devoutly held doesn't save them from being mockable.

Any more than my church (did you hear the one about the nuns...?)

Terry K.

#31 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 03:57 PM:

Calvin did NOT do what he could to save Servetus, he, in fact, went out of his way to see that he was not only tried, but burnt, and that all his writings were destroyed as well.

Among other things he sent some 16 pages of his personal copy of Servetus' argument against the trinity to the court, with annotations as to why they were horrendus and vile, not merely wrong.

Calvin claimed he didn't want to see Servetus burnt, but people claim lots of things.

As Thom said, "From the Flames" is a very good treatment of the case (it pulls a lot of things together which otherwise are hard, if not impossible to come by).

It also reveals that Servetus was (and one might argue this could have been more important than his anti-trinitarianism) the first to write down the path of circulation for the blood.

Terry K.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 05:18 PM:

Kristine, I have one forebear who got thrown into prison with Joseph Smith, and another who was born under a wagon on the other side of the river, the first night out from Nauvoo. Plus lots of others, in the usual mass quantities.

I still find myself bristling slightly at Gentiles who take potshots at Mormons.

IMO, the holiness inheres in the ceremony, not in the ceremonial garments. It's disrespectful but not sacrilegious to display them in public, and the eBay sale isn't going out of its way to be disrespectful. The guy whose mother picked up a set of garments at an atheists' convention, and who put up a picture of himself wearing them -- now, that's intentionally disrespectful.

#33 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 05:24 PM:

Kristine: I'm another one of those "reupholstered" Mormons, as Nerdycellist puts it. I'm also the guilty party for pointing out the eBay items to Teresa in the first place.

I have varied reactions for the relics of the Religion From Whence I Sprang. I have been known to vigourously go to bat on other blogs and sites when Mormonism has been seriously misrepresented--after all, I have family still within the church. I love my parents and siblings deeply, and when I see information that I feel leads people to believe that my loved ones, by virtue of practising LDS doctrine, are other than as they are, I attempt to correct it. Certain claims of Ed Decker, or the confusion of SLC brand Mormonism with its more fundamental cousins, or the occasional allegation of Satan worship--all these are misperceptions which I have no problems correcting.

On the other hand, I feel that the church misrepresented much of its own history, including the origin of its temple rituals and various and sundry regalia associated with its rituals. The origins seem ludicrous to me, and therefore, not above the stabs of satire and humour. I do not think that they are sacred, and to treat them as such is to ignore my own reactions and feelings. (And while I still think the idea of a flash mob in the SLC cemetery, dressed in temple clothing, is a great idea, it's an idea that will likely never go farther than this page, the pages of my journal, or the confines of my own mind, wherein it looks a lot funnier than it could ever look in real life.) I've cultivated a sense of humour about the Religion From Whence I Sprang, and to some extent, I think that keeps me (and possibly many other "reupholstered" folk) sane.

Then too, I honestly feel there is a difference between the way one treats people and ideas/things. I have very few sacred cows anymore, but most of them seem to regard how I treat people. When I poke fun at the Religion From Whence I Sprang, there is no malice intended for the practitioners--just amusement at an idea or a concept which I find a little silly. Human condition, perhaps. (And of course, there's quite a few beliefs I have which are very silly and to be laughed at--namely, the belief that once I take my glasses off, there will always be sharks at the far end of the swimming pool. No amount of rational thought can convince me otherwise. ;)

This has been my experience, my filtration of the all the data and its sources that I can lay my hands on. I can not speak for Teresa at all--though I feel that her essay, God and I, does give you a glimpse into her experiences. Sometimes, I tend to regard her site as a safe place to express my own feelings, as I regard Teresa as something of a role model "reupholstered".

#34 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 06:02 PM:

Kristine - "heritage" is indeed a flimsy term; I was writing in haste during a build. My simplest elaboration would be to say that (looking very much from the outside and often through ... individualistic ... filters) Native American practices appear to have been around for a long time, and to have grown up out of circumstance (environment, basic answers to how-did-we-get-here). Mormonism, by contrast, has an elaborate mythology clearly made up from whole cloth (cf the ?missing?contradictory? section of the Book that was linked to here a few months ago), and rituals that suggest a hypertrophied version of one of Yale's secret societies -- when they're not being outright arrogant, as witness retroactive baptism. (IIRC, T's essay mentions being led to act on belated behalf of an entire German village; I can be amused at the possibility that the gesture was applied to some of the people I'm descended from, rather as I was amused (when I got over being appalled) to find out that a distant cousin was headmaster of Choate.)

Of course, you shouldn't think the people on this list snicker only at Mormonism; IMO it was just the currently-exposed target. It's possible you haven't heard about the Unitarians who come to your door and make you an offer you can't understand -- but if you're rude to them they'll come back and burn a question mark on your lawn. (It's far from unknown to hear that from a Unitarian, just as I learned some of the best JAP jokes from my wife, who is Jewish.)

clarke: certainly there were sanguinary practices even in North America (Central American natives are usually not held up as models...). But note your observation that these were as recent as 100 years ago; how many of them were pathological endtimes (like the popular beliefs about potlatches), how many were see-how-horrible-are-these-people-we're-overrunning propaganda, and how much was actually historic and real -- and is any of it among the practices that are admired rather than deplored or ridiculed?

#35 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 06:07 PM:

Graydon, I was trying (too?) hard not to do the "I'm offended; be nicer to me" thing. If there's one thing I know from growing up Mormon and Southern [my brothers' joke: what's great about being Mormon AND from Tennessee? You can marry ALL your cousins] it's the difference between nice and kind. I wasn't so much wanting to preserve niceness as to make it clear that I didn't mind strong opinions being voiced. I was apologizing because it seemed everyone else was being too careful, and I hadn't wanted to make a fun thread so heavy (7 generations of Scandinavian Mormons can really breed the capacity for humor right out of a body!!)
As has been pointed out, there are boatloads of things to make fun of about Mormonism. And I hope I didn't imply that devoutness of belief ought to be the standard by which anything is off-limits for ridicule. Some people are passionately devout about the principle of food storage (just to mention one form of quotidian wackiness among Mormons that hasn't come up yet), and that is both ridiculous and funny.
But doesn't there have to be some line that one doesn't cross, some space that is allowed to be sacred, precisely to preserve the possibility of awe?

#36 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 06:18 PM:

That makes sense to me; I draw the line a little before you do, but not really so very much before. In ten years, I'll probably be closer to where you, PiscusFiche, nerdycellist and others are. For now I'm in the exceedingly awkward place where I'm still a little oversensitive about underwear jokes and yet feel like I need to take Jo a casserole to make up for the offensive missionaries. How do Mormons spell oy vey?

#37 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 06:49 PM:

New conflicts with mormonism have recently arisen with my parents. They have always been rather freethinking (moved out of Utah because the strain of mormonism was so concentrated and homogeneous, and hostile to my bearded dad and my working mom)and yet they can't put the roots of their church into historical perspective.

For several years after I came of age, I was openly hostile toward the religion. But over the last few years (starting with having my name officially removed from their records - or moved to a different file, I guess), I've kind of mellowed. I am now fairly appreciative of the history and humanity of the early church, to a much greater extent than when I was a frighteningly pious teen vegetarian goth mormon.

I've tried talking church history with my parents - common ground we haven't had since I had my drivers license - and they would have none of it. Bringing up that Joseph Smith emerged in a fascinating point of american history, one of many such religious movements in the same geographical area, brought literal gasps of alarm which quickly turned into sort of an appalled condescension.

"But Joseph wasn't like any of those other people. There is no simiarity between all those other people and what Joseph was doing..."

Ah, yes. Astonishing that he was completely uninfluenced by anything that went on around him. Mormonism sprang fully-formed from the head of Joseph Smith, perfect paragon of humanity.

After reading some of the more verboten works on Smith and putting him in historical context, I now have much more sympathy, and even respect for him than I ever had for the "Official Corporation of the CHurch of Jesus Christ of LatterDaySaints Joseph Smith (now with Kung Fu grip!)", and there is a special place of wonder in my cold atheist heart for Kolob and Heavenly Mother and all those other mystical teachings that the church would rather everyone just forget.

On further reflection, I think "reupholstered" is pretty apt - underneath it all, I'm still the same shape, haven't been re-sprung or anything - but I have a new surface. I'm not sure where I'm going with this metaphor, but I like to think that the my upholstery is the kind that would match crimson flocked wallpaper.

#38 ::: James J Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 07:42 PM:

I work for a service bureau, and for a while we were running a lot of film for a printer running jobs for a Nazarene church. Several items were fund-raising postcards by families going off to spread the Goode Worde to the unenlightened. My favorite was the family heading off to that hotbed of idolatry and unbelief, Italy (yeah, the one in Europe), which ended with a plea to "pray for us every time you eat pizza or pasta!" Would that I were kidding.

#39 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 07:47 PM:

Didn't mean to address recent sanguinary practices - I have no particular knowledge there - did mean to say what I thought I did that there were women treated as property for purposes of traditional ritual as recently as what we might call the Glass Sided Ants Nest period (most will know that book) when the typical dance included George Bird Grinnell as resident expert choreographer - so far as I know any bloodshed around here or high plains for the last hundred years was strictly self mutilation or related - Sun Dance kind of thing which I will leave alone.

In a vaguely related way Moscow Hide and Fur did and presumably still does top dollar business selling animal parts to reinactors in Germany and that Kachina depictions are regularly misused.

#40 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 08:55 PM:

James: apparently a number of American and African churches send (in a reversal of historicity) missionaries to Europe. I think it has something to do with the growing secularization of Europe, and, also, they bring a great difference from the state churches, who, in the words of Jo Walton (I believe), inoculate us against religion by giving us a ... bland, I guess, strain; they bring a passion you don't really see in most churches here (state or non-).

#41 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 09:00 PM:

Kristine --

I can't speak for anyone else, but being on the net for awhile makes people careful about religious discussion. (Especially among articulate people with considerable tempers.)

But doesn't there have to be some line that one doesn't cross, some space that is allowed to be sacred, precisely to preserve the possibility of awe?

Awe is where you find it; it is certainty, rather than irreverence, that I know as being a barrier to awe and to understanding. Certainly there is nothing "allowed" about sacredness, at least not if you think that sacred things are independent of people. It is itself; it's up to use to notice, if we think that's something we want to do. (that's the general 'we', singular in its particulars.)

#42 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2003, 11:56 PM:

Clark -- Peter Dickinson is a lot less well know (particularly in his early work) than you think. And some of us prefer SKIN DEEP as the title for that one. (Personally, I think he's one of the great writers of the 20th Century, and working on being one of the greats of the 21st; but that doesn't mean he's known by many.)

Slightly off topic....


#43 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 01:32 AM:

I'm rather fond of Peter Dickinson's "The Blue Hawk."

Just watched the South Park episode. It was remarkably gentle for SP, with a lot of the humor coming from relatively straight-faced presentation of the more outlandish bits from the Book of Mormon.

I was also faintly alarmed and amused by the resemblance of the Harrison family to the family of a Mormon friend of mine.

I had opportunity a few months back to slightly traumatize a couple missionaries by telling them the story of Lilith, with visual aids, after I invited them in to entertain my dog. (My dog's been sick, but is getting better, and she enjoys visitors, and it makes her get up and excercise. So when the missionaries showed up, I thought having two nice young cleancut guys there to pat her was just the ticket.)

The proselytzing is kind of annoying, but I do have to say that Mormons are far less pushy than Jehovas Witnesses with their "The World Will End Next Tuesday" predictions. And really boring visions of the perfect world to come afterwards.

#44 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 09:25 PM:

Graydon--despite wanting to post a few of your sentences on my wall just to admire their sheer elegance of phrasing, I think I disagree with you. Awe may be where you find it, but I think sometimes you have to go looking. Particularly in this post-everything age, it seems to me that it's too easy to adopt an ironic pose that leaves one too coolly detached and clever to be capable of noticing any but the least subtle knock-you-down kinds of awe-fulness. While I've been disappointed too many times to go searching for transcendence in a Mormon temple, I know people who look for and find it there, and I want to be careful about encroaching on that space where they find sacredness. Of course, it's easy for such "respect" to turn into relativistic twaddle--the logical extension of such carefulness is that one is forced into saying "well, if Precious Moments figurines fill you with a sense of the holy, far be it from me..." I'm wanting to argue for some position between the two poles (which, I realize, is a rather dull position to argue, especially in a forum where passionate rhetoric in defense of strong positions is properly valued!).

#45 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2003, 10:02 PM:

I believe that religion (like stories) uses words to try to cast a shadow on the ground. The shadow is of something big beyond grasping -- something wordless, nameless, and awe-ful.

Different religions see different aspects of that thing, and they use different words to try to describe what they're seeing, and too often what one group finds sacred in their shadow, another finds profane or laughable.


#46 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2003, 12:37 AM:

Kristine -

People get a sense of awe and holiness from human sacrifice, which I think of as the existence proof of religious awe not being an abstract good in and of itself. (I do think that religious behaviours which are not informed by awe are abstract bads, so it's not a symetrical relationship.)

Respecting the thing that is found for what it is, that I think is worth doing irrespective of where it comes from, including a Mormon Temple.

I don't think any worth accrues to the Temple (or the oak grove, or the church, or the impressive rock) because of this. I think whatever worth results is individual, personal, as are all the products of deeds.

#47 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2003, 01:34 AM:

Just finished watching the South Park. Worth catching on the repeat.

#48 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 05:11 PM:

(Kevin) The proselytzing is kind of annoying, but I do have to say that Mormons are far less pushy than Jehovas Witnesses with their "The World Will End Next Tuesday" predictions. And really boring visions of the perfect world to come afterwards.

I guess you get a better class of Mormon, then; I've had Witnesses come to both doors (not surprising as we're on a corner lot and are almost the only single-family house in the area) but they always take "No." for an answer, while I've had at least one pair of "Elders" whine at me that I could at least be polite. (I was being polite; I didn't even \suggest/ I might point the weedwhacker at them if they didn't get out of my face.) And I've never seen Witnesses in swarms, such as the Mormons were around a major subway stop the last time I was there in midafternoon.

#49 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 09:01 PM:

We generally are relatively firm with JW's when they pass through our neighborhood (it's a nice one with well shaded sidewalks and houses fairly close together -- important considerations when going house to house in our climate). We always answer the door, wish them well, but firmly decline any further discussion.

But my wife spent much of her childhood in Utah. Her stepfather was non-practicing LDS (much more common there than one might think) and many of her step-relations there are active members. When her mother died it was her LDS neighbors that showed up at the door (with covered dishes or jello, of course) to help take care of her while everything else was worked out. If she gets to the door first when missionaries call, she qute likely will invite them in, offer them something appropriate to drink and ask how things are back home and how their mission is working out. It's only when they spy the crucifix, the icons, and some of our books that they start to suspect that she isn't LDS.

#50 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 10:02 AM:

Huh, CHip. Usually around here (Chicago) it's the Witnesses that swarm subway entrances and try to (a) argue with and (b) shove The Watchtower at busy commuters who only want to get to work on time.

#51 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 11:27 AM:

In New York the JWs are usually discreetly standing outside the main flow of traffic in the subway station. You'd have to walk up to them, mostly.

The Jews For Jesus are much more importunate (and annoying) than that. Also, they don't pick up after themselves; other groups pick up the pamphlets that their intended recipients throw down, but not the JFJ. Slobs.

Hare Krishna people seem to have died out in these parts, but loud cries of "Kali Om!" drive them away quite nicely, I find.

I'm waiting for the baby LDS they call "Elders" to come to my door. "Here's the deal," I'll say. "I'll set a timer for five minutes. During that five minutes you'll talk about your religion or whatever you want, and I will listen. Then we set it again, and I will talk about my religion or whatever I want, and you will listen. Then you can decide if you want to go another round, as it were. OK?"

I'm Wiccan, so I think I can expect a fairly wide-eyed reaction. And if they were cute... [evil, evil grin]

Oh, well. Never happen. I see them on the street, even in Hoboken, but they never try to talk to me. I'm pretty scary-looking (not intimidating, just freaky); only my friends know just how harmless I really am.

#52 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 04:20 PM:

My favorite dealing with JWs story goes back to when I was about 11 (and so looked, maybe, all of nine) and I was home from school (it being, I believe, the day of my school's Patron Saint) and they knocked on the door.

They asked me if I knew the name of God.

I figured out what they were, and (in one of those moments when you think of it when you want it) said something to the effct of, "He has lots, Allah, Yahweh, God, Vishnu, Aton, Ra are some of them, but the one you're looking for is Jehovah."

I got the most amazed stare from them, a nice enough bit of pleasantry, as they made comments about not needing to talk to me, and a book to use as a paperweight.

I no longer look so young as that, and doubt that such a response is still likely to get me looked as though I were Damien.

Terry K.

#53 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 10:08 PM:

Xopher -- that's the polite/religious response. There's a story about a SCAdian household in Cambridge where somebody came up from the basement complaining about the altar not being cleaned off after the last sacrifice (and the stone knife was chipped!) And if they looked aside for the source of the scraping sound they somebody with one eye on them and the other on his whetstone. (Yes, I know blood sacrifices of anything are uncommon in polytheisms/earth-religions/what-have-you in this country (outside of Santeria). But it was a lovely way to jar the confidence of people needing it.)

#54 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:20 AM:

Friend of mine had a couple of JWs who would show up every three weeks, like clockwork at something like 8 a.m..

One morning, having had some religious circle (he being some flavor of pagan) the night before then came a-knocking at the door.

Bleary-eyed, he looked around at a dozen, or so, naked people crashed in the living room and threw the door open, "All right, you've convinced me. Let's talk."

They took a look past the threshold and left, never to be seen again.

Terry K.

#55 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 01:44 AM:

Oooh, that's much better than mine. When my JWs asked me if I owned a copy of the Bible, I gave them a big smile and asked how many translations they wanted. It's not as much fun as shocking their socks off, but the results were the same: they never came back.

#56 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 04:38 AM:

Hmmm. Somehow I've been missing this comment thread. IJWTS
Xopher: You are *not* scary looking. You're cute as a bug.


#57 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2003, 09:11 AM:

Awe is indeed where you find it: the most awe-inspiring things in my own personal experience have been the sky and a particular tree in the North Court of Yale's Berkeley College. There's already a nice stone wall around North Court, and I can't imagine fencing off the sky.

I know that people look at the sky every day--myself included, many days--and see nothing inspiring, or notice mountains or airplanes [1] instead of the sky itself, and that many students have looked at that tree and not really seen it, let alone seen anything numinous. This does not change my experience of these things, and I don't think anything we post here is going to eliminate the ability of $religious_artifact or $ritual to inspire awe in someone.

[1] At this point I am reminded of Jordan Brown, in Ken MacLeod's The Star Fraction, who believed in airplanes.

#58 ::: Xopher finds blatant comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2004, 06:52 PM:

No attempt to even conceal it. And this thread doesn't appear to have closed after 120 days. Hmm.

#59 ::: David Goldfarb finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 03:43 AM:

large, throbbing, uncut comment spam...

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