“But We’re Better Than Them!”
I wasn’t sure what to write this month’s blog post about until I saw a certain comment on my post from last month. My April 2022 post addressed how disappointingly low the bar is for men in the Church, to which someone replied, “I see more men who are strong and organized and compassionate at church than I so [sic] anywhere else in the world. So I don’t get the point here. Just seems like a poorly formed complaint.” Putting aside the merits of the accusation of whether my previous post is a “poorly formed complaint”, I wanted to discuss the Mormon exceptionalism in the comment. Frankly, I think the commenter and those who think like them are wrong when they respond to any criticism this way.
I call this the “But we’re better than them!” defense, and I find it intellectually useless and doctrinally unsound. It is intellectually useless because even if it is true, it prompts the question “so what?” Jenny wrote about this beautifully in a blog post from 2014: “I don’t care if we are better than Muslims or Catholics or anyone else. I want to be better than we are.” The “But we’re better than them!” line of thinking is more of a deflection tactic than an honest reflection of oneself or one’s group. It is a barrier to our eternal progression when we make excuses and seek to draw attention to other’s faults instead of the ones we have the greatest power to fix: our own. As the Redeemer testified, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
Besides that, I don’t believe it is true anyway that active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are inherently better people. Rather, we are all imperfect people making our way together through this mortal life, and plenty of good and kind and loving (and strong and organized and compassionate) human beings do not share the same faith. I am married to a wonderful non-member man and grew up in a non-member family, and most of my closest friends and colleagues are not members of my religion (or any religion). My conversion makes me a better person than I used to be, but it does not make me better than everyone else.
Jesus also didn’t make excuses for His followers. Rather, He held them to higher standards and praised examples from groups they did not get along with, looked down on, and even hated. When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:4-26, the state of distrust between Jews like Him and Samaritans like her is apparent from the outset when He asks for water and she replies, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” He ends up not only having a conversation with her but sharing with her eternal truths that she then shares with other Samaritans (John 4:28-42). In no part of the Savior’s teaching to her does He say Jews are superior to Samaritans or defend any bad behavior of His own group by saying others are worse or any of the things we would expect Him to say if He ascribed to the “But we’re better than them!” school of thought. As a result, He is more effective in sharing further light and knowledge and empowering her to do the same.
In a separate instance when disciples James and John suggested to Jesus that they burn a village of Samaritans for not receiving Him, He scolded them by saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56). This applies to any “other” we might be tempted to destroy (or even just mistreat): members of other religions, races, genders, sexual orientations, ability or disability, the list goes on.
In Leviticus 19:18, we are commanded as follows: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.” I can think of few things less loving towards our neighbors and less exalting for ourselves than the pride that leads us to proclaim, “But we’re better than them!” The fear of others and the desire to seem better than them is natural and reinforced by our competitive society, so we must be proactive in resisting those temptations. When we take the time to see the goodness in those who are different from us and focus on the weaknesses within ourselves and our communities we can improve, then we move a little closer to where I believe God would have us be.