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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Another Book Review/a cause to ponder

I got another book review over at Mind-Muffins blog. Hooray!

You can read it here:

This is a thoughtful review for sure, but it made me feel a tinge of guilt for not being more direct with one thought in particular.

The author mentions a few subjects which, I agree, could have been better explored, but my biggest surprise was this comment  because it shows that I did not hit the intended nail on the head:

"In the epilogue to the book Harrington writes: 'I don’t think too many conversions hinge on how accurate the Book of Mormon may or may not be. People want a place to be accepted, a place to hear about God, a place where they feel God hears them. Simply put, most people aren’t theologians. Neither am I. That’s what we have in common.' That, for me, was the most telling passage of the entire book

...So ultimately this book tells us a lot about Dan Harrington’s view and experiences in exploring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but offers very little that can be generalized to investigators as a group."

Maybe I wasn't forceful enough, but the thought I was trying to drive home is that people are usually more taken by the "idea or place of being accepted" than by doctrine.

I did spend some time with other investigators, but I did not mention this in the book.  This mostly came about when the elders needed a third party to visit a single female and ward members were not available.  (Their rules dictate that they must have a third party present when alone with a woman.)  I was often their go-to guy for rides, food, or help in general.  A role I happily accepted.

Perhaps I should have written about what I witnessed from those investigators.  I just didn't feel like it was my place to spill other people's beans.

But as an observer who--admittedly--wasn't privy to the entire experience of others, it seemed that some people were joining because they wanted to be accepted, and quite frankly, liked it when speakers talked about them at sacrament meeting.

The conversations I heard from other investigators were less of "I believe Joseph Smith is a prophet" and more of "Do you think the Church will give me a Christmas tree if I wait until after the holidays to join?" (I'm obviously recalling one incident in particular)

Another man testified to knowing the LDS Church was true because of the Holy Spirit, but he would also go out to smoke after sacrament meeting, knowing full well that was against Church teaching.  He was also rude to my elders in general, challenging them in the Gospel Principles class and even calling them "stupid" in his home.  That irked me quite a bit.  Yet he somehow, passed a baptismal interview in another area of the state a few weeks before moving to my hometown.

Other investigators agreed with the missionaries in declaring the Book of Mormon is true, but they hadn't read more than a page or two of it.

These incidents did worry me, and my worry is that this particular aspect of the missionary program happens more often than I expect.  From this review, I see that I should have been more forthright with this thought because the hint I gave clearly didn't do the job.

I also realize that the elders are in between a rock and a hard place.  No one should be a doctrinal expert to join the Church, but how can you really know what a person's motivations are?  I've even seen this discussion on message boards between LDS members who wonder the same thing.

As to my personal experience, which is the focus of the book, I think one reason the elders and I spent so much time together is because we accepted each other, despite our differences.  That's what causes heated arguments, really, because people refuse to accept each other.

In the end, I accepted the elders for who they were--warts and all--, and they, despite my hesitation about joining the church, accepted me into their lives as well..warts and all.

(Not that we have warts.  That's just a metaphor)



  1. Hey Dan; I would absolutely agree with you that there are MANY people who become interested in the church for primarily social reasons. It has been my observation that many investigators do begin with being more converted to the missionaries than authentically being converted to the gospel. I believe this happens because while in the presence of the Elders/Sisters anyone who is even remotely in tune will feel the influence of the Holy Ghost which brings a sense of peace and joy. How could you help but like that and want more of it? The hope is that will be an adequate starting point from which most people will continue to progress in both understanding and commitment.

    People should not be expected to be perfect or to have a theologian's understanding in order to enter the waters of baptism. Otherwise we would not baptize children at the age of eight! The point I was trying to make in the review (which apparently I was not very clear about) is that there ARE people who come looking for doctrine from the get go, and that was something you did not address. There are those of us to whom it matters very, very much that the Book of Mormon is true and that we have real prophets leading us. Frankly, there have been plenty of times when I thought being a member of an LDS ward was anything but comfortable, yet I remained because I was there for the truth of the doctrine, not whether or not the people were willing to accept me or be my friends. No matter how nice they may be, or how good their intentions are, people will let you down sooner or later. The truth that is the backbone of the restored gospel will not.

    Also when I said you never commented on other people's input to your involvement with the church I was not referring to other investigators or members you would have met in the company of the Elders. Rather, I was curious about your own social network of folks you presumably knew prior to your contact with the church. I could not help but wonder how your buddies who had known you for a long time would have felt about the journey you were on, or what changes they may have observed in you during the period when you were actively investigating the church.

    My husband also read the book and he enjoyed it immensely. We have had several substantive conversations about it. I'm planning to pass it on to others and continue the conversations it has started.

    I look forward to reading the sequel which I have NO DOUBT will be written at some point down the road in the future, although I would not presume to guess the direction that book might take.

  2. Belladonna, thanks for the thoughtful response, and I am so glad to hear that both you and your husband enjoyed the book.

    My main worry was that some readers, or at least you in particular, might see the book as not being very illuminating to how investigators' feel. Needless to say, I never related to them because I didn't share their "blocks" to the church, which tended to be coffee and cigarettes. No one ever gave pause to tossing out, for example, the idea of One God.

    I was tempted to mention the other investigators I met, but decided not to put them in the story because they might very well be active ward members now, and as you said, I tend to give the Church the benefit of the doubt.

    As for my buddies, well most of them had zip to say about the topic. One of my best friends from college is atheist and found the experience quite laughable. (We tend to steer clear of faith topics altogether.)

    Another friend of mine, a female, is a fundamentalist who has thrown angry fits about why I would even let the elders in my house. So you are correct to notice that I don't have a lot of friends I can converse on religious topics with.

    I didn't put these friends in the story because I didn't want to make anyone look bad. But overall, they didn't have that much to do with the journey anyway. Either atheist or evangelical, neither of them wanted to hear about Mormons at all--maybe I should have at least mentioned that, but I didn't think either character would have endeared themselves to the reader.

    I tried to steer clear of doctrine, but I do state on pages 116-117 some, not all, of the doctrines that caused me to pause as well as the doctrine of exaltation, which is sprinkled here and there and, of course the secrecy issue, which I tend to think of as doctrinal.

    Some Catholic friends of mine who I spoke with and who read the book have found it kind of interesting but generally showed ambiguity about the Mormon religion. From their perspective, the story clearly show that I have too strong a faith the Catholic Church to leave it, despite my questions. None of my LDS friends have shared that perspective, however.
    I think each of us comes to the table already believing that certain doctrines are correct and all you need to do is accept them.

    I have to say that I completely relate to what you said here:

    "Frankly, there have been plenty of times when I thought being a member of an LDS ward was anything but comfortable, yet I remained because I was there for the truth of the doctrine, not whether or not the people were willing to accept me or be my friends."

    I agree with you because this is exactly how I feel about the Catholic Church. In the book I tried to convey that in my church, the fellowship isn't the best, but it's still the one place I turn when I need direction, prayer.

    I guess another question would be that if someone needs constant reinforcement of the LDS faith--the way I did/do--is that person really converted or do they just love the people?

    It's interesting to see so many people's thoughts. When I wrote the book, I was worried I might be too controversial. Perhaps I should have pushed the envelope a tad, but I think that some of the questions in the book, e.g. the temple, the temple garments, are old hat to LDS members, but big shocks to nonmembers in my area.

  3. Belladonna, you just made me remember a co-worker who, this very morning, was asking me about the book. She said, and I'm paraphrasing here: "I don't know why people dislike Mormons. They're no worse than Scientologists."

    It was clear she thought that was a compliment.

  4. I especially agree with Belladonna's comments on being converted to the truth of doctrine-probably because I'm not someone who cares much for the social aspects.

  5. Nice blog, Dan. I'll be reading your book soon and doing a review. This post reminds me of Pres. Uchtdorf's talk last April Conference when he referred to the "canned food Mormons" who joined the Church in droves just after WWII, because the church was passing out essentials. These members were looked down upon, but many of them stayed faithful and became converted to the doctrine. The point is that the Church gave them what they needed at the time they needed it. Fulfilling both temporal and spiritual needs is what the organization of Christ's church should be all about--and if we don't allow baptism until we're sure candidates have rock-solid, unshakable testimonies, they could be denied those temporal aspects that they really NEED before they can focus on and accept the doctrine.

  6. I didn't notice the new comments until just now. Sorry guys!

    David--who needs a social aspect to church when you have swords? I mean, come on!

    Michael, I hope you enjoy the book. I'd be interested in those "canned food Mormons." Gotta love that name!