Zelophehad’s Daughters

Differences

Posted by Eve

I certainly hope that what M&M recently called “civil, honest sharing” is the ideal we strive for around here. And I wholeheartedly agree with her that we need to break down us-them dichotomies and strenuously avoid casting anyone as an enemy. But, in my view anyway, avoiding differences by removing uncomfortable labels actually grants them more, not less, power. If I’m attempting dialogue with a Jew, a Muslim, and a Catholic, we can’t indefinitely suspend our religious identities and subsume ourselves under some more general label of “religious persons.” At some point we have to confront what divides us as well as what unites us. If we avoid confronting differences of opinion and experience, whether in religion, politics, intellectual discussion, marriage, family life, or friendship, we fail each other; we stunt intimacy and understanding and fearfully concede that differences are so threatening they can’t even be spoken. This pattern of denial and insincere “niceness” too often characterizes church culture, and I suspect it contributes to Bloggernacle eruptions of nastiness because genuine difference has too long been suffocated and festered unspoken in people’s lives.

As I see it, facing the differences among us with tact and sensitivity is vital to the process of breaking down walls and barriers. Naming and exploring difference of whatever kind requires trust and rapport, and the more fraught the difference, of course, the more trust and rapport are required. But few things erode a relationship like the avoidance of difference. There’s a reason the movies convey that a marriage is on the rocks with long silences and voiceovers of unspoken private thoughts.

Not to be too rapturous about it, but I see acknowledging and exploring the differences among us as central to the basic purposes of mortality and of eternity (I hope differences will persist into eternity. What a bore it will be if they don’t!). Considering the questions, perspectives, arguments, and experiences of others is how we broaden and deepen the scope of our understanding, refine our thinking, develop compassion, learn the art of mercy, in short, how we ultimately become godlike.

Although I unfortunately face a lifelong struggle with my quick temper, I hate conflict and contention. It eats me up inside; being hurt and angry with someone literally makes me ill. But I think we do each other a profound disservice if we equate difference with contention. No doubt they far too often accompany one another, and in addressing the deep differences constituitive of identity, building trust and rapport is a vital and continuous enterprise. But I, for one, desperately need the differences of others in order to learn. There are few things I relish more than discussing differences of opinion or experience, trivial and serious, with someone I’ve known long enough to trust that our relationship can sustain disagreement. I love hearing why others love books I don’t, for example, or why they don’t love the books I do, and I love the stories of people’s lives, what they’ve experienced, and how they understand those experiences. And although it’s not always comfortable for my cherished preconceptions, I need to know how others have drawn different conclusions about theories and concepts and politics and faith; I need to measure my ideas against theirs and consider where mine might be lacking. Over time I hope to learn a deeper and deeper hunger for the multiple prisms on life and art and books and religion and politics that only others can offer me.

Vive la difference!

24 Responses to “Differences”

  1. 1.

    But, in my view anyway, avoiding differences by removing uncomfortable labels actually grants them more, not less, power.

    I’m not so sure about this. Some of the labels you mention can be horribly innacurate and unpredictive of how people really feel about something. The term “Jew,” for example could mean anything from someone who keeps kosher and lives their religion every day, to someone whose mom happened to be Jewish. In the area of race/ethnicity, many of those categories are so useless that social researchers have to follow up with detailed questions like the The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM) which is 15 items that start to assess how much someone identifies with a particular label.

    This pattern of denial and insincere “niceness” too often characterizes church culture, and I suspect it contributes to Bloggernacle eruptions of nastiness because genuine difference has too long been suffocated and festered unspoken in people’s lives.

    I’ve never seen this much in real life. Is this really a “church culture” thing, or a “Utah culture” thing that is being passed off as an LDS phenomenon?

    I agree that the differences in others can help us all to grow, but I’ve always lived in places where differences were appreciated. In the church, the process of putting together a presidency or bishopric or committee is so fun, because you can meld together people with different strengths to build a greater whole.

  2. 2.

    Naismith, certainly no label is going to capture all the niceties of personal identity and affiliation; labels are, at best, rough indicators, which is one reason we tend to modify them with further labels–such as “Reform” and “Orthodox,” in the examples you give, or with devices like the MEIM, which is itself a refinement of labeling. And certainly we shouldn’t ascribe too much power to labels, make heedless assumptions based on them, or foist them on people; I’m speaking here of labels with which people themselves identify and which they publicly own.

    But despite these qualifications and despite all the limitations that inevitably attend them, I can’t see how we could possibly function without labels of some kind; they indicate real differences that would persist in their absence. For example, the label “Mormon” is one most of us around here own and identify with, and I doubt we’d feel comfortable giving it up simply because another Christian found it unnecessarily divisive. Giving up calling oneself a “Mormon” would be a surrender of belief, culture, and identification with a particular community. That would be a compromise I suspect most of us would be unwilling to make.

    I’m also not sure there’s such a clear dichotomy between “Utah culture” and an “LDS phenomenon.” The culture of niceness is one I’ve found both in and out of Utah (and for that matter, both in and out of the church itself).

  3. 3.

    Wonderful Post Eve.

    I wonder sometimes, Naismith, if you do not percieve the layer of artifical niceness, of stifling silence that I percieve, if it is because you naturally fit into the roles asked of you, if this churchy culture fits you so naturally that it feels perfectly open and breezy to you because you never bump up against its restrictions.

    I am all the time thinking things I would never say aloud in RS, I am all the time having questions I would never ask. Not because they are evil questions, but because they are culturally inappropiate, they would make people uncomfortable, and that is not acceptable in our church culture. So the system seems artifical and shallow to me, I guess because I assume that so many other feel the same as I do.

    I think that may be incoherent, but I’m going to post it anyway.

  4. 4.

    I go around and around on this, Eve. I find great value in the give and take that accompanies discussion of sharply delineated positions. I participate in online fora like the bloggernacle because I am able to have insights and perspectives I would simply never come up with on my own. And my experience has taught me that the best solutions are usually reached after a throrough and wide-ranging effort to view all the various aspects of the problem.

    But in my interactions with others, even as a I try to acknowledge the differences, I find myself emphasizing similarities. People are just people, after all, and we all have more or less the same basic needs and desires. Often we can explain differences, even very large ones, by taking background, upbringing, and previous experiences into account. And don’t forget the pre-mortal life, the Mormon wild card.

    So, one one hand, I agree with you completely. It is a sign of respect for the individuality of a person when we acknowledge distinctions. But I always keep blurring the lines.

    I will observe that one aspect of our current practice that I find tremendously appealing is the way we perform proxy ordinances. We look up individuals and try to discover the essential facts about their lives. Then, in the process of baptism, confirmation, and sealing, we speak their full names aloud.

    I also like this statement from C. S. Lewis:

    I said there were Personalities in God. I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most “natural” men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.

  5. 5.

    FMHLisa points out what I think is a vital factor in evaluating how well we’re doing, as individuals, families, wards, or communities, with inclusivity–the people to ask are those we’re trying to include. When we’re inside, in the first place, we may not even be aware that relevant differences exist (the majority never knows nearly as much about the minority as the minority is forced to know about the majority), and in the second, we almost inevitably overestimate ourselves, mistaking our own good intentions for necessarily good effects.

    This principle was really brought home to me a few years ago when I found out that women in my ward who hadn’t attended or completed college were feeling excluded. I was dumbstruck. Huh, there are women who haven’t finished college around? I was raised in a family in which college was obligatory and marriage unthinkable before twenty-one or twenty-two, and college education was a difference I had never even considered as meaningful. I stopped and wondered how many casual and unthinking remarks I had made at church colored by the assumption that of course everyone in the world had attended college. Oops.

    Clearly I was in no position to evaluate my inclusivity on that point.

    Mark, thanks for your thoughtful observations. I would agree that any human interaction needs some discussion of common ground, probably at least half of the time, for the relationship to be sustained. I’m all for a healthy, fruitful balance of difference and similarity in any relationship.

    And nice C.S. Lewis quote. It’s the perfect (and much preferable, in my view) inverse of the old saw that begins Anna Karenina about how all happy families are alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

  6. 6.

    I wonder sometimes, Naismith, if you do not percieve the layer of artifical niceness, of stifling silence that I percieve, if it is because you naturally fit into the roles asked of you, if this churchy culture fits you so naturally that it feels perfectly open and breezy to you because you never bump up against its restrictions.

    Yeah, sure, because when I joined the church in the 1970s as an unwed mother and recent Army veteran, I knew so many other women in Relief Society just like me:) And so it was easy to fit in. (Um, the first ward I was in, the bishop asked me to leave and go elsewhere.)

    I am all the time thinking things I would never say aloud in RS, I am all the time having questions I would never ask. Not because they are evil questions, but because they are culturally inappropiate,

    Okay, that is where we differ. I would go ahead and ask the question. I would phrase it nicely, never engaging in personal attack, but say something like, “I can see this is an important topic to many of us, but I just wonder if we’ve considered….” and make the point.

    Back when I was in my 20s in the 1980s, I was in a Sunday School class in which my husband made a comment that I thought was just wrong. So I raised my hand and disagreed, giving chapter and verse of why I thought he was wrong. We went back and forth for a while, and the teacher let us go on, because it was a complex subject and we were citing scripture to make our points. I would have forgotten the incident entirely, but a sweet sister in the ward mentioned it later, and said at first, she was horrified that I would contradict my husband in public, and on a point of doctrine. Then later she thought how wonderful it was that I felt comfortable enough with him, equal enough with him, to publicly debate like that. She seemed to think it was this radical departure from Mormon social norms.

    While I was in that same ward, I was friends with my Relief Society president. One day she casually mentioned, “I hate our sacrament meeting schedule, so I wrote a letter to the stake president and asked him if we could have sacrament last.” I was amazed. Are you allowed to do that, write a letter to a stake president? She insisted that of course you should, you had a responsibility to do so, how else were they going to know if something wasn’t working?

    So if I have a problem with how things are being done, I speak up. Nicely, respectfully. I’ve complained to my various bishops on numerous occasions, and was always met with great willingness to make it right. In some cases, they changed the ways things were done. On others, they acknowledged that mistakes were made or that things could be better in the future. I honestly can’t think of a time when I felt they did not take it seriously.

    I’ve written letters to mission presidents and stake presidents, and while they were less likely to change things (as there are many more considerations that I would have no way of knowing about) they were always very respectful and never implied that I was out of line to register my concerns.

    So the difference I see between your approach and my approach is that I never learned or accepted what you think is “culturally inappropriate.” I’m sorry to be a stupid convert. I simply haven’t bought into the “system” you describe and that’s why I don’t have the problems of suffering in silence. I don’t.

    It does seem to make a difference that I live in an area where most folks are converts, so the “church culture” that you describe is not something I’ve experienced much.

  7. 7.

    Naismith, I appreciate your contribution on that score–your suggestions for voicing one’s perspectives are, in general, excellent ones. But I also think it’s more complicated than simply buying into or rejecting a system of self-silencing. I suspect your final paragraph is key: individual wards and branches vary enormously in the range of opinions they tolerate, and one’s standing in the community factors in as well.

    I think FMHLisa’s point still holds. It’s one thing to propound a different view that’s supported by scripture or to want sacrament meeting to be held at a different time; it’s quite another to wonder why so few women are even mentioned in scripture or to question women’s place in the whole patriarchal system. The price of raising such issues is often immediate and high–being labeled a problem, becoming the target of many anxious and therapizing attempts to resolve one’s concerns, being outright ostracized. It’s not that one should invariably silence oneself on such issues; it’s just that it’s a difficult calculation to make, and it requires good judgment and tact to decide when and how to speak up. From what I know of FMHLisa, she’s hardly a shrinking violet who’s been paralyzed into silence. She’s just aware of the complex social repercussions of raising the particular questions she has.

    And I don’t think anyone on this blog has accused you of being “a stupid convert.” ;)

  8. 8.

    I suspect your final paragraph is key: individual wards and branches vary enormously in the range of opinions they tolerate, and one’s standing in the community factors in as well.

    Then if it varies so much, why is this attributed to “church culture”? I question whether there is a church culture, if there are such radical differences from place to place.

    The price of raising such issues is often immediate and high–being labeled a problem, becoming the target of many anxious and therapizing attempts to resolve one’s concerns, being outright ostracized.

    And why would anyone care? The church is not a sorority. Why would anyone care if narrow-minded people ostracize them? If people are going to do something so silly, why would you care what they think? They are not worth it.

    Okay, my introversion is shining through, but seriously. I don’t understand this anxiousness for people-pleasing.

    Besides which, if anyone said that in my sunday school class, the teacher would respond, “Thanks, interesting point,” and it would not be a problem, so I’m having to stretch to imagine such a thing.

    I do know a thing or two about ostracization, because I was an unwed mother at BYU. But it never bothered me, because I was learning of the gospel and growing in my understanding of God, which is what mattered a lot more to me. And I knew God accepted me and loved me. I guess that experience helped me sort out the gospel from the social aspects of the church. The latter has been far less of an issue since I left Utah.

    And I don’t think anyone on this blog has accused you of being “a stupid convert.”

    No, but in the bloggernacle in general, y’all talk about “church culture” as if it exists and cite all these conventions and policies as if they were real and mattered, when I often never heard of or experienced them, which makes me feel stupid….but I’d much rather be in the church I know than the one that is described, so no big deal.

  9. 9.

    The church is not a sorority. Why would anyone care if narrow-minded people ostracize them? If people are going to do something so silly, why would you care what they think? They are not worth it.

    Naismith, I agree with your sentiment. However, I think it is more complex for some people. For me, my branch is small and mostly converts, and I also see it as a transitory stop for me. So I could hypothetically speak my mind and be fairly radical, and a lot of people wouldn’t even notice. And if they did, I wouldn’t be bothered because that is not my primary social space and I’m not very attached. On the other hand, I look at my in-laws who live in Utah. Their ward also consists of all of their neighbors and their good friends. It’s not a very transient community and some of them have known each other for decades. This is their religious space, social space, neighborhood- it’s all tied together– and it may be where they spend the rest of their lives. They want to be respected and valued in their community. They also live in a particular stake in which the more “Sunstone” types have been systematically marginalized. For them, speaking out has consequences that I don’t think I could easily face.

  10. 10.

    To add onto what Amy is saying: I’m glad that you were able to deal with your experiences with ostracism in such a positive way (I agree that turning to God and growing closer to Him in a personal way is the best way to deal), but I know in my case it would be somewhat difficult (though not as difficult as it would have been in the past). And it’s not just because that I care too much about what people think about me. My identity is tied up with this religion and this church, and to be ostracized by one’s religious community means that, in effect, your community is telling you that your identity is not valued or important to the community.

    Anyway, I’m not sure if I’m not making myself clear here. I’m not talking about the need to belong in a “sorority” kind of way. I’m trying to indicate that it’s difficult to create a religious identity solely in relation to God. If you’re a member of a religion, you also have to shape your identity in relation to the community, and whether or not you “belong” can have a profound effect on how your identity is shaped.

  11. 11.

    Then if it varies so much, why is this attributed to “church culture”? I question whether there is a church culture, if there are such radical differences from place to place.

    I don’t think this widespread and increasing variation precludes the existence of a particular LDS culture (if there were no particular church culture at all, wouldn’t that suggest that our doctrines and community identity are pretty ineffectual and practically meaningless?). You yourself have alluded to its existence–for example, in your comment about the woman who found your public debate with your husband a radical violation of social norms. My understanding of your experiences is not that you’ve never encountered a silencing norm in church culture, just that you’ve managed it in such a way that you’ve continued to speak out. Which I wholeheartedly applaud.

    And why would anyone care? The church is not a sorority. Why would anyone care if narrow-minded people ostracize them? If people are going to do something so silly, why would you care what they think? They are not worth it.

    Here I’m not so sure. As you say, the Church isn’t a sorority. If we take the Church seriously as the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, our relationships with other people in it are going to matter; it can’t be something we just show up and do in isolation from or indifference to the opinions of others. For example, it’s pretty hard to perform any calling without some kind of cooperative effort. And while in a certain sense of course it’s unhealthy to pay too much attention to what others think and do, the gospel isn’t something we live out in complete isolation from one another. A ward is a religious community, and I think we have to be at least somewhat emotionally invested in it if we’re seriously trying to live the gospel.

  12. 12.

    Interesting comments. I can’t ever figure out exactly what role differences should play; it’s all so complicated. Relationships and communities seem to require foundations of at least some similarities.

    I do think it’s important to make a distinction between asking other people to suppress their differences because I personally am uncomfortable with them, and my pledging to suppress my own differences in some contexts for the sake of other people. In theory, unity doesn’t have to entail conformity. It’s easy enough to create a utopia by kicking out the deviants; the question is what are the costs, and exactly where are the lines drawn?
    I admit that I’ve been fairly suspicious of some efforts I’ve seen, in interfaith contexts, to suppress all difference. Jesus can’t be mentioned, since Jesus is offensive to some members of the community, etc. Many people have tried to convince me that “all religion is the same,” that “Christian prayer is exactly the same as Buddhist meditation.” I think true interfaith dialogue requires recognition of difference, otherwise we slip into an amalgamated religion of Namby-Pamby. But I do recognize that differences are volatile, and in some contexts their suppression is necessary to create community.

  13. 13.

    Re 9

    On the other hand, I look at my in-laws who live in Utah. Their ward also consists of all of their neighbors and their good friends.

    Amy, I thought you made some great points. We also moved around a lot before settling in our current ward for 17 years.

    My only question is this…how can you be “good friends” with someone who doesn’t know what you really think or who you really are? Isn’t an honest relationship a prerequisite for friendship?

  14. 14.

    I don’t think this widespread and increasing variation precludes the existence of a particular LDS culture (if there were no particular church culture at all, wouldn’t that suggest that our doctrines and community identity are pretty ineffectual and practically meaningless?).

    I didn’t realize that “community identity” was a goal of the gospel. Or the church.

    You yourself have alluded to its existence–for example, in your comment about the woman who found your public debate with your husband a radical violation of social norms.

    It was her comment that alluded to social norms, and she was from Utah. But it was clear from the conversation that she was learning to abandon those notions. I didn’t feel any sense of viiolation, nor were there any gasps from the audience at the time.

    My understanding of your experiences is not that you’ve never encountered a silencing norm in church culture, just that you’ve managed it in such a way that you’ve continued to speak out.

    That’s not how I sense it, but of course we don’t always know what is really going on, since much of this kind of thing is at a subconscious level.

    If we take the Church seriously as the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, our relationships with other people in it are going to matter; it can’t be something we just show up and do in isolation from or indifference to the opinions of others.

    For starters, it is the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, and if we have a stewardship we are entitled to revelation to know what to say or not. So I can certainly imagine instances in which the spirit would constrain someone from speaking out. But when there isn’t a strong prompting one way or another, I think respect for others is the absolute key. Lots of folks in my ward have differering political views, etc. But I have no problem working with them at church because we respect each others viewpoints. So I’m not indifferent to them, if I care about them as a person. But I don’t have to suppress my own views in order to have a relationship with them.

  15. 15.

    I find that there isn’t much opportunity in my ward for “speaking out” on issues that disturb me. 1) I would have to take a lesson very far afield to get to the issues that disturb me. 2) My ward is so full of outspoken people, there’s hardly time to get a word in edgewise anyway.

    I have to concur with Naismith, though. As much as I can sympathize with the position that speaking out can result in ostracization, I think we are doing ourselves and our community a disservice when we are not honest about doctrines (or policies, or whatever) that disturb us. How do you know how many people are silent because they agree or have no problem with what’s being discussed and how many are silent because they’re afraid to speak their doubts or concerns? I don’t think you could possibly know every single one of the hearts and minds of the RS so intimately that you can be sure that your comments wouldn’t be appreciated or welcomed by even one person. If you’re not being your “true self” at church, what makes you think everyone else necessarily is?

    I think if there’s a “silencing norm,” it’s only because we reinforce that norm every time we refuse to speak our concerns out of fear. Perhaps there are more appropriate times than others to bring up particular subjects, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate to reveal to your faith community that you are struggling with an issue of faith. We’re commanded to meet together oft for a reason, and I don’t think it’s so we can feel isolated in a room full of people who are supposed to bear each other’s burdens. I understand being reluctant to say something that might cause a stir, or may alienate you from others–heaven knows I am guilty of the same, but we have to be honest: it is not a noble impulse to stay silent in these situations. It’s human and understandable, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. I think we would have more courage to make the right choice if we confronted that simple fact instead of dwelling on how hard it is.

  16. 16.

    Okay, that was a little overwrought. My kids were screaming at me and I was stressed. I stand by a slightly more laid-back way of saying the same thing. :)

  17. 17.

    madhousewife, I totally agree with what you’re saying (and, in effect, what Naismith is saying)–I do believe that authenticity and honesty are important things to strive for in any community, and I try to do this to the extent that I believe is helpful and productive. I highly value expressions of authenticity at church, and resultingly, I do my best to only speak honestly, even if people think I’m a bit strange.

    I think those of us who are talking about ostracization are not necessarily saying that we shouldn’t strive for honesty, but there are circumstances under which it is understandable that people wouldn’t be 100% forthcoming.

  18. 18.

    heh, no problem, madhousewife.

  19. 19.

    Madhousewife and Seraphine, thanks for your observations. I think we’re basically in agreement that we do need to express our opinions. The only point I wanted to make is that there’s often a price to be paid for speaking up, that it’s a complex social calculation, and that the more divergent the views, the higher the price for expressing them.

    Naismith, I’m not entirely sure I follow you on the community identity issue. In an ultimate sense, isn’t the gospel all about creating a community? In any case, what I was trying to say is that I don’t think we can always cleanly separate doctrine and culture. I think we’re all agreed there is a characteristic Mormon culture that exists both in and out of Utah but certainly to widely varying degrees (at least, that’s the summary I get from comments so far). Becaise your current ward isn’t very culturally Mormon there might be fewer social penalties for you to speak out that for someone else with more divergent opinions living in a more monocultural ward.

    The very-far-from-Utah ward I currently live in is very culturally Mormon. And it’s not an entirely bad culture by any means–your encounter with the perks of BYU, for example, would be a positive expression of that culture that drew you to the doctrines–but it does tend to put a premium on niceness over honesty, particularly for women. The more diverse and international we become, the more diverse our culture will continue to become as well. And I see that as a very healthy thing–I’m guessing most or all of su do–because it allows us to draw on mulitple strengths and points of view.

  20. 20.

    In an ultimate sense, isn’t the gospel all about creating a community?

    Is it? I’ve never heard that concept before. Sounds like a spinoff post for you sometime.

    I tend to think of the gospel as about helping individuals be the best they can.

    All I can say is that this discussion has me very glad to live where I do. I never feel constrained about anything, people know who I really am, and diversity is embraced.

  21. 21.

    Naismith, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll add it to the list (after I post all of Mark IV’s questions for feminists….).

    Your ward sounds great. I’ll freely admit that I’m jealous. Several years ago my husband and I lived in a small branch that embraced a great deal of diversity and that we adored. Two and a half years into my current experience, which is much more the norm I’ve experienced in church throughout my adult life, I’m still desperately homesick for the acceptance and belonging we felt there.

  22. 22.

    the more divergent the views, the higher the price for expressing them.

    …or the more need to build a foundation of common belief so that the differences won’t feel so shocking. :)

  23. 23.

    M&M, in a sense I agree. Certainly some degree of unity is necessary to any relationship, and I’m just idealistic enough to think that some point of unity can be found between just about any two human beings, although in some cases it may take some serious digging.

    On the other hand, in the spirit of Naismith’s willingness to speak her mind expressed above, I’m not sure it’s my job to protect other church members from being shocked. Don’t get me wrong–it is my job to be civil and sensitive to context and appropriateness. It’s my job to cultivate charity and compassion and mercy. But it’s not my job to make other people comfortable or to protect them from shocking or difficult differences, or from anything else about life that’s difficult. In fact, protecting ourselves from difficulty interferes with our covenant to bear one another’s burdens. (Maybe I don’t want to confront the complexities of homosexuality, for example, or to think about the horrors of drug addiction, but maybe the person in the next pew is struggling with one of these issues and desperately needs somebody to try to understand.)

    In some sense we go to church TO be shocked, to be forced out of our comfortable ways of thinking and being into self-examination and repentance and into broader views and deeper understanding of one another. Some of the most significant spiritual experiences of my life have been more than a little bit shocking to my personal complacencies.

  24. 24.

    Spinning a bit off Kiskilili’s comment, I’ve also thought a lot about this issue in interfaith contexts. I’ve heard on more than one occasion that all religions are essentially the same. I think this assertion is usually well-meant, and it’s doubtless preferable to people killing each other over religious differences. But I just don’t think it holds. I note that people who make this particular claim have rarely come to this conclusion after seriously studying a variety of religions in any depth–rather, they generally base it on a particular theological assumption regarding religious unity. Likewise, an approach in which one claims belief in the essential truths of all religions (another one I’ve heard from time to time) strikes me as a bit presumptuous, as it usually seems to involve taking immensely rich and complex religious traditions and boiling them down to a few tidy ideas which can then be generalized across faiths.

    To maybe bring this slightly tangential comment back to the point of Eve’s post, I think that Mormons can learn from Protestants or from Buddhists or even from other Mormons (and vice versa) precisely because we’re not the same, because we bring different ways of looking at the world to the conversation. I absolutely agree that it’s important to find common ground, but if that’s all we do, I think we’re missing out on any chance to really learn from each other.

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