Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Faith and Culture

I recently wrote a post of Tumblr that drew quite a crowd. Both people who were like-minded, and those who were spiteful. So I figured that it wasn't fair that it wasn't posted here. Also, I've been absent for a while and needed to fill the gap. Oops.
When I began attending University and minoring in Cultural Anthropology, I had a very sudden realization about my religion. This realization has persisted all the way into my marriage. The realization being: there is a difference between Mormon culture and LDS doctrine. 
As a teenager in high school I grew up more focused on the cultural aspect of Mormonism. There were activities with friends, a few hours in church and free food. Going through high school, I will admit, I was probably rather shallow in regards to my religion. I did, however, thankfully, have a father who was a World Religions teacher. Unafraid to ask large and intellectual questions, he was a good source to come to latter in life. 
As I hit college, the cultural aspect began to feel rather hollow. I began to 'pull my head out of the sand' so to speak, and ask many questions. What was stopping me from going out and drinking with friends? Why did I do certain things? Why did I pray a certain way? As I began to turn back to doctrine and re-educate myself I found that the influence of culture within a religion can certainly have negative drawbacks. Not to say it does not also have positive influences, but sometimes lines are blurred.
This issue persisted with me, but eventually became an item on the back burner. I thought of it as a personal thing to deal with slowly over time.
Then one day I wandered downstairs trying to find the workshop at the museum and met my future husband. 
For those who don't know, my husband is not LDS. As a matter of fact, when I met him he was a skeptic agnostic who thought Mormons were something to laugh about. Granted he is still a skeptic on many things in life, I jokingly attribute that to him being a History Major, but I love him for it. 
Later into our dating he expressed interest in coming to church with me, and so he began to attend regularly. His experience to culture shock though was something that proved to be an immediate stumbling block. It probably did not help that we began attending YSA (Young Single Adults), where the fresh Return Missionaries where looking for wives and the young girls were searching for a hot date. There is a reason we call it the "meat/meet" market. 
My husband at that time (and still does) began to point out to me many things that I realized where not part of my faith, but rather the culture. Lessons would be about education, how the gospel applies to our age, and other such doctrinal topics. Other topics though would include "Boys you need to start asking the girls on a date!" or "don't forget to bring a cute date for the dance!" or "we're doing a service activity, come for the food after!"
These little quips often ruffled my husband. He would look to me and ask "Why?" He would also ask:
"Why do you take sacrament with your right hand?"
"Why do you pray like that?"
"What's with the emphasis on 'hot dates'?"
"Why are RM's so important?"
"Why do you all talk about/go to Salt Lake, like it's a pilgrimage?"
"Why does it feel like everyone is trying to just dunk me in one of your baptismal fonts?" 
"What's with basketball and Mormons?"
These are but a few things that my husband was always asking. He still always asks actually, which is good. All of these things have nothing to do with some profound doctrine, they are all tradition. Something that seems to be easily confused. For example, nowhere in the King Fallot discourse was it stated that I get my own world. Most Mormons though seem to think that they will get to command their own cosmos. Instead all it stated was theosis, that we believe our Heavenly Father wants us to become as him. Certainly it is perhaps implied, but it's not doctrine. A few times though someone has mentioned it, and it has left my husband scratching his head. 
I never truly thought culture was a counter productive thing though until our wedding was announced in my small town. Then and there did I realize there was a difference between members who portrayed the culture and members who portrayed the faith. 
It was a rather staunch and bitter realization. As people, even certain friends, were shocked, judgmental and appalled that the religious teachers daughter was marrying *gasp* a non-Mormon. Which that phrase itself bristles me. 
Thus I saw the difference between those who, in lay man terms: talked the talk and walked the walk. 
I actually lost a friend over it who was appalled I would marry a guy who wasn't an RM or even a Mormon. To which I replied "Where does it say that I have to do that?" All she could say is, "We are told to, we're supposed to!" 
First point for counter productive culture. Teaching of a personal belief that eventually came to be believed as doctrine, when it is not. 
Though it was a relief that the people who mattered, loved my husband no matter. My family and good friends do adore him and wish him the best. That is where faith came in, loving one another and judging not. 
At one point my husband said to me (in regards to the friend who said I shouldn't marry him): If I had met her first, I would have never stepped foot in one of your churches. 
Luckily, my family and I made a good impression. However, those who follow the culture rather than the faith have an increasingly worrisome outward appearance that could result in quick judgement. 
That is what is increasingly worrying me. The people who portray our culture rather than our faith. Believe it or not, they don't go hand in hand. They need that crowbar separation. The people who portray our culture are the ones who get us quick judgments that we are all crazy, basketball playing, young marrying, child popping out Mormons. It's portrayal of our culture that gets things like Book of Mormon Musical on Broadway.
But it is those who portray the intellectual side of our faith that can remedy that. My husband and father talk often, with the many questions my husband has. Some I can't answer, though I am working on that, so he goes to his father-in-law. Who is happy to answer his skeptic questions. I personally think that this is something we need more of. Questions. We need to question what we are doing and why we do it. It can help us grow stronger in faith, and separate what is superfluous from what is important. 

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