Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Don't We All Pick and Choose?

(cross posted at Exponentblog)

In the last month or two, I’ve come across a couple of people who have referred to my approach to religion as “cafeteria style” or “belief buffet.” Whenever I hear these kinds of comments, I scratch my head in befuddlement.

I tend to think that we LDS all pick and choose which religious tenets we want to emphasize and which we want to downplay. Is there a human alive that truly is able to incorporate into their lives all the ideas and commandments present in the scriptures? All the (sometimes conflicting) statements and ideals that have been presented in General Conference over the last 150 years? Over the last 25 years?

Take, for instance, D&C 89. Active Mormons are generally great at abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. But there is that pesky part about abstaining from meat, unless it’s a time of cold or famine. While some Mormons are very thoughtful about their meat consumption, many Mormons I know do not pay attention to that particular God-given word of wisdom. This is simply one uniquely LDS scripture that most upstanding Mormons have chosen to ignore.

Or how about President Kimball’s General Conference talk in which he condemns hunting for sport? I love that part of the talk. But I understand that hunting is still a popular past time in Utah, even among upstanding LDS. These are good Mormons who have chosen to believe President Kimball’s admonition does not apply to them.

There is also the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a grayish area to me – an area in which devout Mormons, despite some pretty clear cut admonitions from the General Conference pulpit, pick and choose which activities and abstentions work best for themselves and their individual situations.

There are so many other uniquely Mormon beliefs and practices – caffeinated drinks, R rated movies, tight clothing, facial hair, white shirts, family size – that I see many devout Church members picking and choosing how – and if – to incorporate into their lives.

After years of self-doubt and angst about certain Church issues, I personally now find great inspiration and power in picking and choosing which religious tenets to emphasize in my own life. I feel like it is my right and my responsibility to embrace and revel in those principles and practices which uplift, empower, and inspire me to become a more Christian person. And likewise it is my right and responsibility to discard, ignore, or shelve those ideas that don’t.

While I know that some LDS are uncomfortable with this approach (although, as I stated above, I feel like we all do it to a greater or lesser extent) I feel liberated by it. By carefully discarding those few ideas that I have found hurtful and false, I am now at liberty to fully embrace those that I find wonderful and true. I am a far more enthusiastic Christian now than I was in my period of angst, when I thought that Mormonism was an all or nothing proposition.

I recognize, however, that beliefs and practice are always fluid, and that things I reject now I may later accept. I’m sure that I’ll make mistakes in this negotiation process, but ultimately, I have hope and faith in a forgiving God who will see the sincerity of my quest and understand the ideals that motivate me in my spiritual journey.


Blogger Sherpa said...

Personally, I feel we can pick each other apart in regards to cafeteria style. Almost all of us practice cafeteria style religion, whether or not we realize it or not, and personally I don't think its a big deal whether or not you do. The important thing is working on bettering yourself--how you do it being picked apart by others seems pretty petty. I think emphasizing certain principles in your life at one point and then once you've mastered them, and then focusing on something else is absolutely fine.

11/07/2007 6:06 AM  
Blogger john.white said...

Sounds like someone needs to spend some time on her knees.

Sorry, I just read that here, and decided it was a wonderfully wacky chastisement to leave when discussing spirituality.

Maybe there's a Mormon meaning to that that I don't get.

OK, I just asked someone. Prayer, huh? That's less funny.

Sorry, I don't have much to add besides jokes. I'm at a loss as to how you all reconcile doctrinal strictness with personal revelation.

Nonono, don't try to explain. I don't really want to know. :-)

11/07/2007 1:30 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

i think the key in all of this is the idea of fluidity that you present at the end. becoming rigid in one's own version of mormonism--whether it's a traditional/conservative version or a more radical/liberal version--creates problems. specifically, i think it creates the problem of myopia and perhaps even an inward myopia. we begin to see only that which is close to us. and, when we turn inward to examine ourselves, we only see the reasons we're right.

john may not want an answer to his question about personal revelation vs. doctrinal strictness, but i think the tension there is key. because there is no final resolution of those two things except, ultimately, a breakdown of hierarchy resulting in the equality not only between human beings, but also between humans and god. which, as i've said elsewhere on your blog, i genuinely believe is the point of all this and what i think god is working for. in my opinion, it is engagement with the messiness of conflicting imperatives--whether those are externally generated (there are plenty of examples of mormon authorities giving conflicting imperatives, especially if you consider instruction from a broad historical range), internally generated (expecting conflicting things of oneself), or a combination of the two (which is what generates the 'cafeteria' approach in the first place)--it is engagement with those conflicting imperatives that matters. it's not so much the resolution of the conflict.

11/07/2007 2:19 PM  
Blogger alise said...

But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. 1 Sam 16:7

Love that scripture (and don't we all interpret scriptures to help us out in our picking and choosing :) I believe that God is as merciful and understanding of our individual circumstances, desires, etc. as the scriptures say. And, he is much bigger than our little Mormon culture :)

11/07/2007 4:14 PM  
Blogger alise said...

Oops...I meant to say that I believe that sincerity is the key...

11/07/2007 4:16 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Thanks for all your nice comments :)

Sherpa, amen!

John, I just read that wacky chastisement over at Jana's blog. Wow. Jana gets the prize for best brutally funny response to a stupid comment.

Amy, I love your idea about how it's the engagement with the messiness that really matters. England's talk "The Church is as True as the Gospel" hits on that theme a lot.

Alise, so true. God is so much bigger than our Church - it sounds obvious, but I think it's only really hit me in the last few years, as I've visited other churches and felt the goodness and godliness there.

11/08/2007 8:29 PM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

I agree about the belief buffet system that goes on, especially here in Utah. It seems like I always see at least one "righteous" ward member doing a little picking and choosing between Sundays. I truly believe we all do it, and I believe that the Lord will look on our hearts and our intentions. But I also would like to share something that works personally for me.
It's very easy for me to follow the Word of Wisdom--no tobacco, no caffeine, no alcohol, little meat. But that whole no R-rated movies thing? Not a commandment I'm always willing to follow. But I've found that while I get blessings for following the "easy" ones, like the WOW for me, the blessings I get when I make the harder decision to follow the "hard" commandments are way bigger. It's kind of like stretching my comfort zone. Yeah, it's scary and uncomfortable and obnoxious to follow the commandment about R-rated movies, but BECAUSE it's scary, I'll receive even more blessings when I finally do follow it. Hope that makes sense!

11/10/2007 5:20 PM  
Blogger G said...

Oh caroline, what a timely post for me (sorry, just found this blog today... i'm used to reading you over at ExII)

This was what i was needing to read today... do you mind If I link to this on my blog?
( )

(and thanks to jana for linking to your blog!)

12/04/2007 2:55 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hi G,
Sure, go ahead! Glad you liked it. It was something that had been weighing on my mind a lot.

12/04/2007 8:03 PM  

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