22 June 2006

The "Same Old Thing"

Another post inspired by The Screwtape Letters. Sheesh, CS Lewis is such a genius. Anyway, on my way to school today, I was reading letter 25, in which Screwtape advises Wormwood on the use of the "Same Old Thing" philosophy to distract people from what they should be doing. Here's a description of this concept straight from the book (if you haven't read the book, note that this passage is written from the point-of-view of a devil, and thus the "Enemy" is God and the goal is to get man away from Him):

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produed in the human heart--an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. . . . [T]he Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasureable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. . . .

Now, just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. . . . Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.
I've personally been thinking about this problem a lot, both in the church as a whole and in my own life. A particular example of this problem which has been bothering me comes from a sacrament meeting in my ward. The subject of the meeting was to be on the resurrection, one of the most basic, beautiful, and essential doctrines of the gospel. The first speaker was from our student ward and the second was a high council speaker.

When the student got up, he started with the usual banter about being nervous, the bishopric calling him to speak, etc. But when he got to his topic, he said that he was supposed to speak about the resurrection, but that was a boring topic since everyone pretty much already understood that, so he decided to talk about a "personal resurrection" (his term for a change of heart) instead. I was first disappointed: I was really looking forward to hearing a talk about the hope afforded to us by the resurrection. But I decided to make the best of it and enjoy this talk anyway. Conversion and change, after all, is something we all need to work on. But as I was listening to the talk, I became even more annoyed and bewildered. Almost all of his talk came from self-help books, secular leaders, or popular sayings. When I started keeping count a few minutes in, I noted only one reference to Christ and possibly two scriptures or General Authority quotes.

To make matters worse, the High Council speaker had a similar problem: though he did sort of talk about the resurrection, there were even fewer quotes from General Authorities or scriptures in his talk. Instead, he spent the entire fifteen minutes listing a whole bunch of "faith-promoting rumors" about people who had survived near death experiences, and how this somehow proved that there was life after death, which sort of proved there was a resurrection, and wasn't that nice? The next week was fast Sunday, and my mind was probably still on this problem because all of the roommate-imonies, good-book-imonies, something-I-learned-in-class-imonies, and BYU-religion-department-imonies bothered me a lot more than usual.

It's a problem that seems to be unusually magnified at BYU, since we are surrounded by the gospel not only for 3 (more like 5) hours of meetings on Sunday, but in class, at home, at work. Theoretically, this should be a good thing: we are supposed to make the gospel a part of everything in our lives, like the foundation is to a house. But this massive exposure seems to have the side effect of causing some people to be "bored" with the gospel, bored of the same, simple "Sunday School" right answers--though the fact that such simple answers exist is, to me, one of the most joyous parts of the gospel. And when they are bored, they start looking for ways to make the doctrines of truth into new, novel concepts. (From this concept, we can infer the evolution of what is now the LDS publishing industry. Seriously, every time I walk into Deseret Book, I want to gag at the consumerism of it all.)

As much as I love CS Lewis and other inspiring figures, the main focus of our meetings should be on the basic doctrines of the gospel as taught by the scriptures, General Authorities, and the Spirit, no matter how long we have been in the church. Yes, I realize that the GA's occasionally quote world leaders, CS Lewis, and even Fiddler on the Roof. I have two answers to this: first, they tend to do so in moderation, spending the majority of their talks on scriptures and personal testimony; second, they are GA's, so they have a greater ability to discern truth out of these non-cannonical sources than your average church member.

What I mean is, we should be teaching out of sources that are "safe." When you are dealing with your own spiritual growth, sure, seek learning out of the best books, and the spirit will guide you to discern the truth. But when it comes to teaching others, what the spirit uses to teach you may not be what they need. So stick to the basic sources recommended to all members of the church. Don't make your home teaching thought a quote by Nelson Mandela. Yes, this happened to me. Innovative as it was, I would have much preferred one from the Ensign, or the scriptures.

My personal way to make sure that I stay on the the strait and narrow in my teaching is the SQRT formula: for every concept I want to teach, I look for a personal Story, a GA Quote, a scripture Reference, and give my personal Testimony. This keeps it simple and doctrinal, and keeps me from teaching out of the Book of Liz to those who don't need it or aren't ready for it.

No, the doctrines of the gospel are not new concepts, but why should they be? People through out all ages of history face basically the same problems, and the Lord doesn't need to invent new answers to problems He has already given us the answers to. Give me a meeting where we "preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people" (Mosiah 18:20). Every time we are called upon to give us lesson, let us put it to the test of 2 Nephi 25:26:
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.


Ben Crowder said...

I agree. There's that one scripture (which I can't remember at the moment) which says we should only teach faith and repentance. While I don't think it means only those two principles and no other principles of the gospel, the message is clear: teaching off the gospel path is something which doesn't belong in sacrament meeting.

This quest for the ever-new is annoying. Especially because I find bits and traces of it in myself. In movies, there always have to be bigger explosions and more shocking special effects. I want some quiet, please -- some peace and stillness. I don't want to be addicted to a diet of constant and ever-increasing stimulation. I want to be able to appreciate the serene joys of everyday life, mundane as they may seem to the world.

And I want to drink in the pure principles of the gospel, not the philosophies of men. The more we really learn them, the more they fill us, the more real and true and wonderful they become to us. It's the nature of truth. So if I ever catch myself getting bored with resurrection (or whatever it may be), it's time to stop, drop (to my knees), and roll (away the scales which blind my spiritual eyes). I know the gospel is true, so any blandness I find comes from my own faulty perspective and not the principles themselves.

I like the new theme, by the way. :)

Ben Crowder said...

Um, next time I should read to the end of the post before I submit my comment . Let's just pretend I didn't say that second sentence, okay? :)

Anyway, I think I'm going to post this to my blog. Good topic.

Liz Muir said...

S'ok. BTW, I'm not as much a fan of the new theme. I just didn't want it to be so dark anymore. Now that I'm out of classes, I'll probably work on my own non-template design.