June 15, 2017

Church of the extrovert

"Different" is not always "good." Too much "difference" in close proximity causes wars. Especially when it comes to theology, I don't see the point in "kicking against the pricks" if you can't align yourself theologically with a religion. Go find another cause or church.

(In other words, my "activism" ends exactly at the point I'd have to get out of my armchair to do anything about it.)

On the other hand, a religion that promotes itself as having a "catholic" outreach must realize that differences in human nature exist. Unfortunately, it's easier to pursue utopian universality by pretending that everybody is (or should be) a clone of whoever's in charge.

As a case in point, an article about psychological depression in the Winter 2017 BYU Magazine uses missionary service to illustrate several aspects of the problem and then completely misses the point. Because one size fits all.

Consider the sidebar featuring the anecdote in which Lindsay, "a self-described introvert," recounts that "It's really exhausting to me to be in a social environment all the time. Those things don't come naturally to me, and I had a lot of anxiety related to that."

The "advice" that follows never acknowledges that perhaps being "bold and assertive and confident" isn't for everybody and certainly not for every missionary. Instead, one is supposed to "increase resilience" and develop "coping skills." In other words, conform.

The coping strategies that worked for her--"spending time alone or reading a book"--are not allowed. Perversely enough, the only acceptable alternative this Hobson's choice offered her was to be labeled mentally ill.

To be sure, people have all kinds of issues, and being "with a companion 24/7 that [you] didn't choose, learning a foreign language, and adapting to a different culture" are some of the demanding pressures that inevitably come with being a Mormon missionary.

But, frankly, those pressures--which are finite in duration and not that much more demanding than the rest of post-mission real life--are peanuts compared to the expectations of unavoidable social engagement. And yet these expectations are simply never questioned.

Buddhism and Catholicism long ago figured out that there are convert-the-world types and there are vow-of-silence types. If you're one of the latter and find yourself in a church that's pedal-to-the-metal on the former, you're going to have problems, period.

The church of the extrovert is fine for those who are extroverts, want to become extroverts, or are willing to put up with being around extroverts. It's a Darwinistic gauntlet that systematically filters out the "unfit" personality types. That's fine too. It's a free world.

But if being the life of the party is the necessary condition the viability of the organization depends on, a church that prioritizes sociability and good PR may not be long for this earth. As Rod Dreher argues in The Benedict Option,

If believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally, their faith will not survive for another generation or two in this culture of death.

In his conversation with Albert Mohler about the book, he further explains:

My life is shaped around the chanting of Psalms and on all kinds of sensual ways that embody the faith. Of course you can have smells and bells and go straight to hell; that doesn't change you and lead to greater conversion. But for me as an Orthodox Christian and me as a Catholic, the faith had more traction and it drew me in closer and closer. I don't know if evangelicals can do that, because as I look at evangelicalism I see people who are zealous for the Lord, no doubt about it, but also susceptible to every trend that comes along.

(The "Benedict" Dreher refers to is not Pope Benedict XVI but the sixth century Benedict of Nursia. He founded the Order of Saint Benedict that defined the structure and objectives of monastic life and helped preserve Western Civilization through the Dark Ages.)

On the other hand, the Mormon church recently began dismantling its tight relationship with the BSA organization, and has hinted that it may divorce it entirely. So rejecting the popular secular option is always a possibility (though it remains increasingly unlikely).

Related posts

Up with introverts
The weirdest two years
Understanding Japanese women (and introverts)

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# posted by Blogger Katherine Woodbury
6/17/2017 8:18 AM   
One of the most fascinating insights I ever got from a book about religion is from one of Rodney Stark's many tomes. While discussing Christianity under Rome, he momentarily digresses and points out that the *moment* a country/culture is divested of its "state" religion, people sort themselves into as many categories as the culture can bear: diehard fundamentalist, agnostic, social believer, theological believer, "I go for the holidays," orthodox, unorthodox, heterodox . . .

It doesn't take another generation for varying religious attitudes to be taught or to filter down--they kick in immediately.

It truly is an incredibly personal thing.
# posted by Blogger Dan
6/17/2017 1:14 PM   
Kate, I like your observation. Organizations require leadership. Without it individuals self-organize around their own priorities and this can leave the primary organization without a purpose. Political parties exemplify this outcome. For example both Republican and Democrat parties, lacking clear leadership, have fractured into a myriad of factions. The only thing holding each party together is agreement that the other is the political enemy.

The Mormon church excels at embracing and promoting the leadership ideal. It fosters a culture of leadership and this has been key to sustaining the church as we know it. However the focus on leadership leads to the presumption that any member can be a leader and that every member should want to be a leader! As Eugene writes, those Mormons who find group interaction mentally and emotionally tiring may find the cultural expectation to be a difficult challenge.