“We claim the privilege of worshipping almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (11th Article of Faith)
Three vignettes in no particular order.
Priesthood meeting on Sunday started on an odd note when the instructor told us to gather our chairs in a circle. Long tradition held that the chairs remain in the six long rows used for opening exercises there in the cultural hall, and that the 8-15 elders who stayed for quorum meeting spread out in those rows according to the dictates of their own conscience.
My conscience demands that I sit near the back where I can read on my iPod, read my lesson manual, or read my book (currently Rough Stone Rolling) without drawing anyone’s attention. I’m listening carefully, but I also get a little fidgety if I don’t have something else to do while I listen. I try not to talk much because I tend to run on at the mouth, then feel bad for being a blowhard.
I also tend to quip quietly to myself about what the teacher says. It’s not heckling–I don’t intend to be heard by anyone except myself and those sitting very close by–but it is usually responsive, if tangential, to the lesson. It’s a bad habit I picked up years ago and have never been able to consistently rid myself of. I literally think out loud, with the effect that I mutter nearly constantly in response to the teacher’s points.
So it was with more than a touch of trepidation that I grabbed my chair (second to last row, second seat from the far right end) and sat in the circle next to the quorum president and just off-center.
The instructor promptly began speculating on the literal age of the earth and the question of organic evolution. He moved on to wondering if the earth was created before or after the council in heaven, then segued on to whether Eve was more righteous than Adam in the Garden of Eden because she followed the greater commandment after Adam refused.
Not surprisingly, I kept us a fairly constant externally evident internal monologue throughout–a fact that the teacher noted and called on me regularly to express more loudly, that the quorum president answered in muttered quips on my left, and that seemed to amuse the brother on my right.
Eventually, the instructor pointed out that we had little hard doctrine on any of those questions, but that there was a great deal of speculation on all of them. He recommended that we study, discuss, and pray for greater understanding, but that we also understand that the answers may not have direct or meaningful relevance to our individual concerns.
I liked the lesson. A lot. But I still plan to sit near the back and off to one side next week. I will still mutter throughout the lesson. But maybe I’ll leave the book in my bag just this once; I didn’t read a single word last week, yet the lesson still seemed full and interesting. My conscience dictates that I at least try to pay full attention next time–and maybe even speak out loud once or twice.
Tuesday was political caucus day throughout my state. Both Republicans and Democrats meet at the same elementary school in my area, so it’s not uncommon for someone to get lost and end up in the wrong room. (In a fun twist, the Democrats turned to the right at the front door and Republicans turned to the left.)
I ended up sitting in the back chatting with an older gentleman who knew he was in the wrong room, but chose to stay anyway. He explained his theories on how to stop illegal immigration by salting a five-mile wide strip along the border with Mexico with high-level nuclear waste, how we should use retinal scans as lie detectors in airports to stop brown people (male, aged 25-40) from flying without direct challenge, and how he wasn’t nearly dishonest enough to actually run for public office.
I don’t really agree with much of anything that gentleman said, but I do appreciate that we have regular political caucuses where we actively encourage people to get together and express themselves according to the dictates of their own consciences. I also appreciated that no one felt the need to argue, shout, or otherwise tamp down this gentleman’s free expression. When he finished he simply got up and left as the rest of us went about the business of the caucus.
Maybe he was looking for a fight and left disappointed. Perhaps we did him a disservice by not offering vigorous debate. But none of us could think of anything to say, so we remained silent. I’m still not sure that was the right approach, but I’m also not convinced there was a useful alternative.
I need to think about that one some more…
Over the years on various AML forums I’ve been fairly roundly criticized from various quarters for failing to offer firm statements of belief about literary schools, genre selections, questions of artistic merit, authorial honesty, and other elements. I suppose that makes me wishy washy or indistinct, except that I have very specific opinions and beliefs about all of those things.
Perhaps I should be bolder in making pronouncements about those sorts of things, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Ultimately, I think most of those ideas are subjective and few such pronouncements would be relevant to how I pursue the dictates of my own conscience in art, in politics, in questions of doctrine, or in issues of expression.
Which hasn’t kept me from bloviating at length about any number of topics. But I do work to keep the conversation going as much as possible. I withhold more aggressive statements not out of a fear of offending or a lack of opinion, but out of a sense that I seem to shut down more conversations with my opinions than I seem to encourage. And I consider that a shame, because the primary point of forums like this one is to hear a diverse set of views from a wide variety of voices.
So it’s been more that a bit disappointing over the last few weeks to see so little participation here, and so little conversation arising out of some truly interesting ideas expressed in some wonderful voices.
Maybe we’re too polite for our own good. Maybe we’re afraid of offending. Maybe we’re just trying to sit back to allow room for others to speak. Whatever the case, the relative silence is nowhere near as interesting, informative, entertaining, or instructive as a good, boisterous discussion. Better impolite but active than silently kind–at least in this forum.
We claim the privilege of engaging ideas, schools, esthetics, markets, and literary methodologies according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow (mayhaps even demand) others the same privilege, let them express how, where, or what they may.
Please do so. It’s okay…I promise.