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Guest Post: The World's Perspective

by Beatrice

In LDS Church rhetoric we often talk about “a worldly perspective.” A common question in Sunday School is, “what does the world teach us about this topic?” As members of the church we supply ready answers for these types of questions. In these circumstances the sunday school teacher is asking us to contrast what the LDS Church teaches us about a topic vs. what the world teaches about that topic. Here is an example of this kind of speech from a recent Ensign article about dating “The world’s way; find someone who fills my needs. The Lord’s way; become selfless and service-oriented.”

Growing up, nothing struck me as odd about these questions. However, as I receive training as a psychologist I find these types of questions and statements puzzling. When we ask a Sunday School class to tell us what the world teaches us about a given topic, what do we mean by “the world.” Do we mean the whole world including every culture? Are we talking about current popular ideas in American culture? Or are we talking about what Hollywood teaches us? Psychologists look at understanding and explaining variation in the human experience. So as a psychologist, if I think about “the world’s perspective” I would have to say that there are a huge variety of perspectives out there and it would be hard to summarize the “world’s perspective” into one statement.

It appears that these questions aren’t aimed at eliciting an accurate description of how different groups of people feel about a topic. Rather, when we use this language we want to set up a contrast between guidelines that the LDS Church has given us and ideas that are popular in our current society. I believe this language stems from scriptural language such as:

1 John 2
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

1 John 14
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.
22 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

It appears that in the scriptures there is a clear contrast between God’s view on things and a worldly perspective. While I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with conceptualizing things this way, there are some misconceptions that stem from this line of thinking we need to be careful of. First of all, we need to avoid an “us” vs. “them” mentality. LDS people pride themselves in being in the world, but not of the world. We like being distinct, and in many ways we are. However, we should avoid the misconception that we believe x while the rest of the world believes y. This is false in that many people share many of our beliefs, and it is also false because it reduces the wide variety of opinions that exist about a given topic into just two. As members of our society we should try to learn about and understand the perspectives of others. People appreciate it when you sincerely try to understand where they are coming from.

Second, the way that we often word “the world’s perspective” in LDS settings may only represent how a small portion of the population actually feels. For example, in an LDS Sunday School class in which the instructor asks the class what the world teaches us about sexual relationships outside of marriage I commonly hear the response, “The world teaches us we should have sex with whoever we want with no regards for the other person’s feelings or a commitment to them. You should just focus on what you can get out a relationship instead of what you can put into it.” While I am certain that there is a percentage of people who feel this way, many people who practice pre-martital sex do so in the context of committed, long-term, loving relationship. One of the values of psychology is getting a more accurate picture of human attitudes and behavior. You may think that the majority of American society practices pre-marital sex and has no desire for a long term relationship, but if you actually did an empirical study on the topic, the results may surprise you.

In conclusion, we should avoid freely talking about “the world’s perspective” without being clear on who we are referring to. One way to rephrase the question, “What does the world teach us about this?” would be “What are some of the different views in our current society on this topic?” I feel that in this way we can better understand other people around us and where we stand in relationship to them.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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11 Responses

  1. cchrissyy says:

    wish I had more to add than “great point”, but there it is!

  2. Alisa says:

    I’ve wondered about this too. Is “the world” the natural human? I’ve often thought to myself, “the world” teaches us that men should dominate women because they have more physical stamina, and women are emotional and need to raise children, etc. God would teach us that we’re equal and don’t need these telestial roles when we live in Celestial circumstances (which we should strive to do in our homes). But that’s just telling myself what I want to hear–how me and DH organize things anyway. 🙂

  3. madhousewife says:

    I think when people say “the world,” what they really mean is “people who think the opposite of what we think.”

  4. Caroline says:

    I too am uncomfortable with rhetoric that promotes an us vs. them world view.

    Like Beatrice, I am far more interested in building bridges between diverse people, rather than trying to reinforce differences.

  5. Chelle says:

    Great points. I think it also makes people disinclined to believe the church’s perspective on what is wrong when they are scared away from certain “wordly things,” and then through education or experience realize that it isn’t that simple.

    Ever since I’ve gotten out into the world, so to speak, I’ve realized there is much more good and less evil than I was taught about the world at church.

  6. lkmom says:

    I was raised in Mormonville and naturally assumed that “the world” meant everything outside of Rexburg and Utah. I had no idea what other people actually believed and was shocked to find that most people just believed a different version of what I did. Sometimes very different, but it wasn’t quite the large and spacious building I was expecting. Now that I’ve lived on the outside for 10 years, I am better able to appreciate our beliefs and the small but crucial differences that do set us apart. But it would have been more beneficial for me to learn that “others” are usually good, not generally evil.

  7. SingleSpeed says:

    WORD. I completely agree.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    Beatrice, I’m going to start using the question you posted at the end when I teach: What are some of the different views in our current society on this topic?

    That seems like such a great way to have a more nuanced discussion rather than the simplistic Zion verses Babylon theme.

    Thanks for a great post!

  9. don y. says:

    I agree with your conclusion that when church instructors use this language they are more interested in setting up a contrast with ‘church’ teachings. The vagueness of the language also allows them to make this contrast inaccurate in content and anonymous as to who ‘the world’ actually is. In my opinion, this anonymity encourages members to demonize those with a different perspective. Much the same way people use nicknames or non-human words to describe people they wish to treat in a less than humane way. If we put a real face on a real differing belief we might have to accord it some respect.

  10. Beatrice says:

    Thanks for all the comments so far. Like Chelle and Ikmom I was surprised that when I moved out of Utah I met many wonderful people who drank responsibly and often lived with their girlfriend/boyfriend. I think there is a whole wide spectrum of people out there and we often have a limited view of how things actually are. EmilyCC, I am glad that you are going to use this question when you teach. I think that even small changes in this area can make a difference.

  1. November 1, 2015

    […] The World’s Perspective Avoiding the pitfall of teaching us-versus-them mentality… […]

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