07 November 2009

To Be A Jerk, Or Not To Be A Jerk

It's Saturday night and ideally I should be out partying. Instead, I'm home for one precious full day, catching up on a thousand domestic details, doing laundry, and re-packing for tomorrow's flight. But the lure of blog surfing is strong, and I just ran across one that prompted some uncomfortable self-examination.

Through a series of clicks from Facebook I found myself here. I wanted to see what kind of blog was maintained by an LDS woman who said elsewhere "Yes on 8. This isn't about hate. It's just about defining marriage between a man and a woman. I don't hate anyone. The LDS church does not believe in hate. They do believe in marriage being between a man and a woman." I was honestly curious to find out about someone who would so blithely say that with such apparent innocence. It sounded so innocuous when she put it like that. So simple.

But I've been around long enough to know that nothing in life is that simple. So I read through several pages of the blog produced by this person who seems to think it is. I wanted to see what else of herself she had revealed. And guess what.

I found her blog utterly revolting. It actually made me nauseous. I'm not kidding. It was so cutesy artsy-fartsy, so sweetness & light & kittens & lollipops, so high fashion decorating brought to you by Target home furnishings designers, so desperate to be poetic, so tantalizing in its tiny little snapshots of her life and thoughts so perfectly staged but utterly superficial, that I finally had to stop reading. I had just eaten dinner, after all.

Then as I sat trying to recover my gastronomical equilibrium, I thought "Wait a minute. Am I just being a massively uncharitable jerk here? Did I loathe that slog through an online California version of a Mormon Handicrafts store because of how my perspective on the Church has changed over the last year? If I profess to be a follower of the Savior despite my differences of opinion on certain issues with the institutional church, should I allow myself to think or feel this way about someone I've never met? Or would I have felt that way regardless? If I'm going to walk the talk, then I have to correct myself too if I realize I'm not doing it. So where does this one fall on the scale?"

Some uncomfortable self-reflection ensued, and I figured it out.

I didn't react like this because of how my opinions have changed over the past year. I have always detested superficiality and shallowness. Like Emerson said, "Give me truths, for I am weary of the surfaces." And while I try to be charitable, it is sometimes difficult to do with people who seem either satisfied with shallow superficiality or unwilling to consider that there might be more to things than meets their eye. And Mormon culture, especially the feminized version of it that's taken hold over the last 20 years or so, often tends to emphasize appearances and outward conformity. So when I see content like this woman's blog that reveals a person so supremely self-assured in her apparent superficiality, so completely content to be a mile wide and an inch deep, and then I see her blithely opining in just a few sentences on a socio-political and cultural issue that has profound effects for countless lives when it seems clear those effects have never even occurred to her, well I get angry. And nauseous.

If that truly is the best she can do, then of course I must be charitable. I've said many times that everyone is at a different point on the path. But the fact that she has a blog, the evident time and care she has lavished on it, on so carefully arranging its every element as if it were a massively intricate Relief Society lesson tabletop, tells me that this is not a person bereft of capacity to think. Yet the result of all that time and energy and care remains so startlingly pretentious and saccharine that I am almost speechless. How could so much effort result in so little substance?

So I'm satisfied that coming out hasn't made me into an angry jerk. I've always been impatient with kitsch and with people who presume to opine on difficult subjects without a shred of effort to understand them. Especially when there are so many of them and collectively they are capable of injuring others with their ignorance at the ballot box, while denying any responsibility for those results. I think it's the crashing disconnect between such sweetness and light on the one hand, and the unbelievable ignorance of the issue and the terrible effects that people like her have on so many others--that's what made me recoil and nearly lose my dinner.

I hope I don't sound like a total jackass here. I tried really really hard not to be, and I tried really really hard to understand where this woman was coming from. I know there will always be people like her, and I know that for a lot of them stuff like her blog really is all meant in good faith. Fine, I get that. It's not my cup of tea, but if it makes her happy, God bless her. But when that superficiality in the aggregate ends up setting public policy and denying countless numbers of God's children legal rights & protections they should in all fairness have, that's when my patience runs out.


Frank Lee Scarlet said...

No, I don't think you were being a jerk. If you were, then I'm one too--I glanced at the blog and experienced a similar "gut reaction".
I think my favorite part was the blog badge on the side that advocated the infamous (not to mention unconsitutional, IMHO) Defense of Marriage Act. It's a lovely picture of a newly-wed bride and groom with the words "PROTECT THE DOMA" beneath them.
...More like "PROTECT THE DOGMA" if you ask me.

Chester said...

After a day's worth of sparring on Abelard's blog, if feels good to read this.

I looked at that blog. I agree with your assessment.

I don't believe the general membership are thinking when they vote against gay marriage, I'm voting against gay marriage. What they're really thinking is, I'm following the prophet.

There's no connection.

So when they're confronted with their actions they don't think, He's taking issue with my decision to deny him marriage. They're really thinking, He's taking issue with me following the prophet. No wonder they feel threatened. To them, we're attacking their right to practice their religion.

This is why it feels like I'm trying to reason with insane people. It feels like I'm going crazy.

Max Power said...

Her blog title is "sweat tears or the sea". Do you think that she means "sweet"? Or is it some random phrase that I'm not familiar with?

mandi said...

Just to let you know- there are many of us lds women out there with mild brain capacity who do our very best to understand and weigh the issues. I honestly have worked and wished for the brains of someone like you who can sit down and think and study and come up with coherent thoughts and non-fragmented sentences. There have been numerous occasions where I have written comments on your blog but deleted them because I truly don't have the intelligence to carry the weight that your posts deserve. I just hope you never come my way and read anything I have written. It might come across as saccharine and lollipop-y as hers. Hard to avoid when I've been living in it for 35 years.
See? I still am not getting my point across. Oh well. I'm laying myself out there nonetheless.

Alan said...


Thanks for your comment. I applaud your efforts and am grateful that you took the time to post. I think you got your point across very well, and I am flattered that you would take the time to read my stuff. I hope you won't be afraid to post more comments. I respect sincerity and honesty and you have both.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

I totally sympathize with what you're expressing here. I'm happy to see that I'm not the only one who makes serious efforts to understand the people I disagree with. Unfortunately, I find that going deeper than the surface is not something that is highly encouraged in LDS culture despite prescribed teachings of studying, personal growth, etc.
The blog in question is just as you described-- insipid and shallow-- and as someone working in higher education, I must say that she puts about as much thought into what she's saying as the grammar she uses. I think we all gagged for multiple reasons.