conditioned to love the Monster God
Here is a half-baked thought that has been marinating in the back of my head for a while:
Sermons and lessons in the LDS church (and other churches too) utilize stories that condition us to accept a Monster God.
What I am thinking of here is the numerous talks, lessons, etc that use as their object lessons examples of extreme human suffering to teach about God.
A few examples:
1) From Elder Monson’s conference talk from last year (ironically entitled “Be Of Good Cheer”) in which he talked about the German Mother in war-torn Prussia and how she had to bury her children one by one, having only a spoon to dig their graves with, until the very last child died, and at that point, she had even lost her spoon and so used her bare fingers against frozen ground to bury her baby.
2) From a local Stake Conference a few years back; the Stake President, as part of his talk described in great detail, how at a family cookout, the young toddler pulled the charcoal grill full of red-hot briquettes over on top of himself. The Stake President went on in great detail about the extent of the irreparable damage done to the toddler’s body. I don’t remember exactly what the SP’s point was (probably prayer, or faith, or something) because I had to leave the meeting (leave my toddler sitting in the pew with his father) so I could go throw up.
3) The Mormon Message film My New Life about Stephanie Nielson who was horribly burned in an accident. Her story is a powerful tribute to the human will to survive (and thrive), to the healing power of a supportive community, and to the amazing technological advances that saved her life. However Elder Holland’s voice over at the end gave me a sick feeling: “When suffering we may in fact be closer to God than we have ever been in our entire lives….”
I believe these stories and elements are included in our gospel teaching elements as coping mechanisms; a way to preemptively curtail questions about the atrocities that occur and how an All powerful All loving God fits into this world of carnage. Perhaps, they are included to be intentionally numbing? (Activism is frequently downplayed to make place for faith/acceptance.)
We are taught to Pray to the Monster God for protection (for he is mighty to save) while simultaneously being taught to accept that He may chose not to save you. Instructed that we cannot understand the mind of God, we are taught to accept that in spite of unwavering devotion, and his unconditional love and omnipotent power, you and your loved ones may die in a multitude of agonizing ways. Or live in a multitude of agonizing ways. And lesson after lesson in church is constructed to condition you to that fact.
So pray for patience.
Or at least for acceptance.
But it seems a bit like rolling dice to pray for protection.
It is storytelling.
Turning tragedy into faith promoting stories.
My own thought is that reality isn’t very faith-promoting.
Two related segues:
~After the Earthquakes in Haiti earlier this year, JohnR wrote this post about suffering, and storytelling, and how we can cope with tragedy without trying to piece an all Powerful all Loving God into the story.
~From the movie Constantine, Gabriel’s monologue on why a reign of terror was in God’s best interest: “If sweet, sweet God loves you so, then I will make you worthy of His love. I’ve been watching for a long time. It’s only in the face of horror that you truly find your nobler selves. And you can be so noble. So, I’ll bring you pain, I’ll bring you horror, so that you may rise above it. So that those of you who survive this reign of hell on earth will be worthy of God’s love.” (It turned out, btw, that this idea hadn’t been vetted by God)
To end with, a little sacrilege.
Have you seen the painting “One Nation Under God” by Jon McNaughton?
In thinking about The Monster God, it occurred to me that the anonymous artist who did this parody (WARNING, it’s a bit disturbing) might have been on to something.