Robert Kirby is still yanking his hair out trying to get all his technology up and humming. This is a reprint of an earlier column.
I asked a friend how his son was adjusting since returning last week from a two-year Mormon mission.
“Beats me,” Al said. “I’ll let you know if and when he finally gets here.”
According to Al, the kid who came home from Germany was not the more mature and responsible version of the one they sent away. Oh, he looked like David, but David was disturbingly different now.
“It’s like they kept our son and sent us a seminary teacher starter kit,” Al complained.
David, it seems, is having a difficult transition. So is the family. His sisters are tired of him quoting scriptures to their dates, and Mom is heartily sick of the Word of Wisdom lectures on Pepsi.
“The part that drives me nuts is that he won’t stop talking like a general authority.”
“Horrible. I asked him about his mission and got a General Conference travelogue in priesthood pentameter and Melchizedek meter. What did they do to him?”
Actually, it’s more like what David did to himself. Religion is largely about conformity, specifically about adopting a lifestyle more conducive to whatever spirit you hope to attract.
Granted, religious conformity is more complicated than this, but, for the sake of space, let’s just agree that at the very least you’re expected to stop robbing banks.
Unfortunately, one of the first problems with conformity in any circle is that of blatant imitation. In the Mormon world, we’re talking white shirts, neckties, suits, buzz phraseology and, strangely enough, holding forth like a general authority.
Listen to five minutes of an LDS General Conference and you know exactly what I mean. The talks are given in a careful, measured and hushed manner nearly devoid of personality.
“My, dear, brothers, and, sisters, I, stand, before, you, on, this, great, and, marvelous ...,” carefully enunciated in a soft voice.
My take on this delivery style is that the emphasis is intended to be on what is said rather than the person saying it. Makes sense if you want to believe that what you’re hearing is coming from the Lord.
For the most part, the only people who ever talk like this are top church leaders (in certain settings) — and those trying to imitate them. It doesn’t happen a lot, but enough to be distracting.
With the imitators, I find the desired effect reversed. What is being said takes a distant back seat to the person suddenly sounding like Mister Rogers with his calling and election made sure. I get a little nervous when you get unctuous.
Such pious posturing is hardly just a Mormon thing. I’ve been to your churches, too. The dress, the hand waving, the shouting, the crystals, the serpents, the symbols, the pious brooding, whatever it is. The point is that we have our religious idiosyncrasies and you have yours.
Imitating those we believe to be our betters is a human thing and a risky one. But you can’t find yourself in religion through shameless imitation.
This behavior should give us all pause to wonder. After all, if God created us as individuals, I doubt he intended for us to work so hard at being someone else.