Things I Like About Mormonism

I went to have a chat the other day with the rector of the local Episcopal church where I’ve been attending services, mostly just because I am manically talkative right now and always looking for a new victim to process my religious journey with. Fortunately, he turned out to be a skilled listener. And something that really impressed me came early on, after I told him my basic background (namely that I was a super conflicted Mormon who’d been recently dabbling in all things Episcopal and loving it). He easily could have used that as a launching point to do a sales pitch for the Episcopal tradition, or plunged into a narrative of Mormonism as an oppressive tradition from which I needed to escape. But instead, rather my to my surprise, the first thing he asked was, “what do you like about Mormonism?” As a lifelong Mormon I am perhaps overly alert to potential proselytizing, and the thought may have crossed my mind that this could be a trick question, part of “building a relationship of trust” or “establishing common ground” so that then you can later pounce and get the person to convert. But as the conversation continued, it was clear that nothing of the sort was happening. He genuinely wanted to learn more about Mormonism (he didn’t know much), and in particular my experience of it. He didn’t have an agenda for me; he just wanted to hear about my spiritual journey. It’s an absolute delight to talk to someone with that attitude.

Anyway, the conversation got me thinking about what I do like about Mormonism, and inspired me to dig out a post I started years ago on the topic and expand it. Here are some of the things I came up with:
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The Social Functions of Happiness

Because of all the other bloggernacle posts on happiness and maintaining appearances (see Dave’s Mormon Inquiry, Feminist Mormon Housewives, and Exponent II), I’ve been thinking about this subject for much of the day today. However, my thoughts have taken a slight detour through my academic interests.

I do a lot of work on thinking about the ways in which emotions are not only signals of internal states or biological processes, but have social functions. In Catherine Lutz’ Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenge to Western Theory, she argues that emotional concepts cannot be thought of as independent of the culture and society from which they originate, and that the discourses and structures to which emotions belong determine their very nature. She explains that “the concepts of emotion can more profitably be viewed as serving complex communicative, moral, and cultural purposes rather than simply as labels for internal states whose nature or essence is presumed to be universal” (5). Read More