COLUMN: General (Conference) Thoughts

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to CacheValleyDaily.com. His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

<em>“Faith: not wanting to know what is true.”</em>

—Friedrich Nietzsche

* Many years ago, I was invited by a dear friend to attend the priesthood session for the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a former Elder’s Quorum president and an adherent to the philosophy that the best way to know how people and things work is to witness it yourself, I gleefully accepted.

Despite proudly being a contrarian, I decided to wear my one and only white dress shirt; a simple act of courtesy and respect to a church that has a rigid dress code.

As we were parking the car near the Conference Center, we noticed a young man—somewhere between the ages of 17 and 22—wearing a day-glo lime green dress shirt. Even if he was not walking in a sea of white, he would stick it out with that particularly garish shade of green. Do you remember the music video for Wham’s 1984 song, “Wake Me Up Before you Go-go”? Yeah, it was that color.

Our seats were very good. We were 20 rows from the dais. As I stood up to look around at the beauty of the Conference Center (architecturally, it is a stunning edifice) I noticed way up in the second mezzanine the kid with the fluorescent green shirt. Even at that great a distance, he was easily recognizable.

There is no point to me telling you this. I just wanted to share with you my General Conference story.

* Recently, the LDS church has released three manifestos trying to explain in more lucid detail the church’s theological stances. Although I have the acumen to debate what I believe to be the fallacies and inconsistencies in all of these explications, I would prefer to ask a different question.

Why now?

As far as I know, the LDS church faces no more problems than any other ideologically conservative church. This did not seem to be a reaction to any political battles currently being waged against or by the church. In short, there was no prompting. They just decided to open a debate they have long seemed to avoid with outsiders.

For three decades the LDS church has strongly emphasized its social attributes over its doctrinal beliefs. Few, if any, investigators to the church are brought into meaty discussions of the church’s doctrine.

So, again, why now?

The LDS church’s expertism of public relations is laudable. Their ability to tango around certain issues long considered messy or awkward to the church and its history has sustained them through many firestorms. Something that the church’s leaders see in trends with members or recent converts has made them take a peculiar initiative when it comes to explaining dogma.

I wish I could figure out what it is.

* General Conference weekend is usually a great time for those who do not practice the faith in Utah. Whilst most members are sitting in front of their televisions watching every session, the rest of us pretty much run the place. Sundays are usually when most of us apostates do our shopping, or take in a movie, or do anything. But Conference weekend is even more inviting.

And that leads me to a question I hope some of you will answer. Do any Mormons feel guilt when they intentionally skip the Saturday sessions?

* There is a down side to Conference weekend. Twitter. To all my Twitter friends who are good Mormon boys and girls, I want to say something to you that might come off rude, but it is necessary.

We don’t care.

Twitter is a place where we go to find the latest pictures of Miley Cyrus half naked—not for sharing what every speaker at Conference says. Other devout Mormons are listening to the speakers with you. The rest of us are just trying to see what dirt TMZ has to dish out.

If God wanted Twitter to be the vessel by which His word was brought forth to the world, the Sermon on the Mount would have been under 140 characters.

* What would happen if BYU’s men’s basketball ever made the Final Four? With only rare exceptions, the national semifinal games of the Final Four takes place during Conference—most notably, the Priesthood session.

How would the church reconcile “God’s team” playing simultaneously while the church leaders were speaking? In an era of easy Internet access and DVR’s, the logical answer is to watch Conference after the game. But, isn’t that a gross miscarriage of protocol?

This dilemma really does not need to be addressed towards fans and alumni of the University of Utah, or for Utah State University. Because we know that Ute fans are all fake Mormons. And so long as Stew Morrill is the coach at USU, they don’t have a chance to make the Final Four.

* My view on the group Ordain Women might surprise those of you who believe me to be an amoral, godless Mormon basher. Ordain Women is a group of LDS women who believe that women should have a more active part in LDS affairs—most specifically, being given the priesthood. While I abhor the brusk “shut up and breed” mentality of those who oppose Ordain Women, I think the group is missing the unfortunate paradox of their movement.

The Mormon church believes that God speaks to the world through prophets. The word of the Prophet is absolute. If you are a good Mormon, woman or man, you do not doubt at all what the church leaders tell you is doctrinal truth. That’s it. Case closed.

The Mormon church says only men have the priesthood. Only men run the church. If you are a woman and you find that degrading, or in any way devalues you as a person, then you are in the wrong church.

I encourage dissent. I hope Ordain Women succeeds in its goals. But they won’t. And that is the tragedy. As a whole, these women profess a belief in something their intelligence compels them to doubt. They are missing the larger questions.

* Finally, a word or two about faith in general. Years ago, I compared General Conference to the act of recharging batteries. Every six months, faithful Mormons listen to their church leaders talk to them to reaffirm their spiritual belief. It is entirely right for practicing Mormons to find great pleasure and solace in this upcoming weekend.

But for those who excoriate Conference for what is often seen as an Orwellian act of reprogramming and doublethink, they use this weekend to target the church for their most pointed criticism. This too is proper.

My point, and on this subject I do have one, is that for all of the alleged harmony and peace that comes from believing in a higher power, those who find religion to be the antithesis of freedom will always look at Conference as a means to enslave the mind, not free it. And the Mormons will see it as the opposite

If you are a Mormon, I hope you enjoy Conference. If you are not, I hope you enjoy the emptiness of the stores and restaurants you will frequent this weekend.

It’s a win-win.

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