In the Preface to New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community, the editors cite an unidentified 1991 report that places each of the thirty largest Christian denominations in one of five categories based on their environmental stances. The categories were: 1) Programs Underwayâ€”denominations engaged actively in national environmental programs; 2) Beginning a Responseâ€”denominations beginning to engage in national environmental programs; 3) At the Brinkâ€”denominations preparing to take the plunge into action on the national environmental level; 4) No Actionâ€”denominations not taking any action as yet; and 5) Policies of Inactionâ€”denominations that, as the editors put it, are â€œformally committed to inaction.â€
Bet you canâ€™t guess where this unidentified report set The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: yep, firmly in the â€œformally committed to inactionâ€ category.
Shortly after, the N. G. Preface cites a Los Angeles Times quotation from a 1997 declaration by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide:
To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. . . . For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of Godâ€™s creation, for humans to degrade the integrity of the Earth by causing changes in its climate, stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands. . . . For humans to contaminate the Earthâ€™s waters, its land, its air, and its life with poisonous substancesâ€”these are sins.â€
New Genesis also opens with a quote (or two?) from LDS President Gordon B. Hinkley:
Here is declared the Creator of all that is good and beautiful. I have looked at majestic mountains rising against a blue sky and thought of Jesus, the creator of heaven and earth. I have stood on a spit of sand in the Pacific and watched the dawn rise like thunderâ€”a ball of gold surrounded by clouds of pink and
white and purpleâ€”and thought of Jesus, the Word by whom all things were made. . . .What then shall you do with Jesus that is called Christ?
This earth is his creation. When we make it ugly, we offend him.
Looking past this bonbons assortment of accusation and blame, we see that these quotes call for us to improve our behavior toward the plants, animals, and simple or complex elements and their arrangements upon this planet, and thus toward their Creator. (I think our responsibility extends to the sky, as wellâ€”to light and dark, to time and space, and to countless undiscovered conditions and relations we live oblivious to.) What I wonder is why, when religious or cultural discourse invites change, it often relies on blame and guilt to motivate: â€œWhen you do these bad things you commit sins and offend God.â€ New Genesis is not alone in trying to guilt Mormons (or anybody) into becoming better â€œstewards of the earthâ€ through finger-wagging rhetoric–the practice is widespread in environmentalism generally.
Lighting fires of guilt to prompt people to change their behavior toward the environment risks provoking them to light backfires of defensiveness and apathy: Many will assume fall back positions and dig in their heels; some will lose sight of the most shining of goals in the fogs of shame they feel already, rightfully or not, over other matters; some will tune out guilt-fretted language completely along with any worthwhile issue it promotes. Sure, people are responsible for their wrongful behavior. But admonishing them to change only by telling them what they’re doing wrong or by telling them what not to do can run even the most earnest soul aground.
To be fair, one reason people depend upon “Shalt not” language in rising tides of cultural or spiritual awareness might be that often, when folks start to awake to the the awefulness of their situation, they see something of what they’re doing wrong but are much less clear on what to do instead. So they compose a “Not-To-Do” list as a starting point, an Old Testament-style map of the new moral world. The New Testament lays matters out differently. Christ takes the big “Shalt Not” list and turns it into two compelling “Shalls.” The emphasis shifts from unproductive, selfish behaviors like envy, murder, adultry, stealing etc. to the much more the creative, community-and-divinely-oriented conduct of loving God and one’s fellow beings.
Well, I just think there’s a lovely and more advanced precedent there for writing about experience. And really, there’s a new kind of nature writing emerging that allows for the drift of love in its language. In his essay, â€œField Notes on My Daughter,â€ David Gessner, an award-winning nature writer and the editor of Ecotone, asks how it could be possible for him and his wife to write â€œobjectivelyâ€ about their young daughter, whom they love so much. He answers:
â€œIt is not, I suppose . . . We are pre-wired to love our offspring in outsized, outrageous ways. So does that render my observations of my daughter useless? I donâ€™t think so. As long as I take some caution about not writing in a â€˜Isnâ€™t that adorableâ€™ vein, then why should it matter if love infusesâ€”not to say contaminatesâ€”my sentences? My best writing about ospreys â€¦ was filled with not just admiration but love for the birds. It sounds hokey, but isnâ€™t it obvious that our best writing must be suffused with love?â€
Yes, isn’t it obvious? Could Mormons get behind movements to improve their behavior toward the Earthâ€”and toward their fellow human beingsâ€”that engaged in language â€œsuffused with loveâ€ rather than pickled in guilt? Or not?
Uh, where is the evidence that we have taken active steps NOT to act? I guess I have to get past that puzzler before I can seriously evaluate any attempts to guilt me into changing a stance I wasn’t aware I had taken.
Its probably referring to the Church’s formal stance to not take political positions except in unusual circumstances, Ardis P. I bet that reporters or editors or the authors of unidentified 1991 reports who contact the Church to get its position on environmental political questions get told that the Church is perfectly willing to say “Nature! Whee!” or ‘”Nature! Ennui!” as the case may be but that as a matter of policy the Church will not say “Support [or reject] this complex regulatory scheme!”
IMO, politicized environmental programs should not be equated to righteous concern for the earth, and that is too often what I think is done.
Ah. I’ll bet you’re right, Adam.
Okay, now I can start thinking about Patricia’s question. Back to you later.
In CA a year or two ago there was a letter sent out that was read from the pulpit that stated emphatically that the church would be conserving water in grounds maitenance with the rest of the community. They were not coerced to do it. That definately seems like action to me.
I’ve been thinking about this lately. I think that the reason we don’t take formal action is that we don’t have a tradition of “strongly recommended” or “strongly discouraged” and shades in between in the church–all we have is “forbidden” and “required.” And the last thing we need is an argument in RS over whether it is forbidden to use cloth diapers (we must conserve water!) or forbidden to use disposables (we must conserve landfill space!). And maybe generic statements about exercising good stewardship would be nice, but if “do your home teaching!” doesn’t get results, I doubt “save the earth!” would when there is no specificity.
Amen, m&m. Now I need to go untie my tongue. (You try saying it 10 times quickly.)
I also think the Church generally focuses on spiritual things, tries to avoid “commanding in all things” and leaves us in most ways to acts as “agents unto ourselves.”
I have a very hard time taking someone seriously who rails against the Church as a cult that dictates all of its members’ actions then turns around and chastises the Church for not taking a stand and demanding its members all accept a particular environmental, social, economic, whatever program.
Having said all of that, I do think we have a solemn responsibility to be much better lords over and stewards of the earth, so I agree with the sentiment. Perhaps this is a case of other churches promoting inspired error – inspired in their focus, but in error as to the promotion of a particular program. Perhaps, OTOH, there is no error in any program that actually does value all of God’s creation and seeks to improve our stewardship for it. I tend to see it the latter way.
Perhaps, OTOH, there is no error in any program that actually does value all of Godâ€™s creation and seeks to improve our stewardship for it.
I’m trying to parse this. What’s the difference between what you just said and saying that any political program that has good environmental intentions is one we should support?
You are right, Adam. I typed in between other efforts and didn’t say it correctly. I meant to add, “and does so in a way that is not destructive of God’s creations.” To praise anything with good intentions was not what I meant to do, but it is exactly what I actually did say. My bad; every once in a while my brain gets ahead of my fingers and I hit “submit comment” without proofreading.
#3 m&m: The angriest, guilt-spurred language some environmentalists use shows no marked difference from the angriest, guilt-spurred language some religious-ists use. In both cases, the language becomes about the individual or group’s anger, guilt, and lust for funding or control rather than the issue requiring closer creative thought and inspiration.
I take it that you mean that it’s members of the political environmentalists who are equating their programs with righteous concerns for the Earth?
Everyone: This post isn’t about whether the church officially or unofficially does or doesn’t show interest in environmentalist concerns. It’s about the kind of language people use when they talk about these things. Please don’t let the quotes from N.G. distract you. I put them in as fairly usual examples of what I imagine to be the wrong way to inspire change and discussion. I am concerned about the state of the planet’s health, and I find such language unconvincing and counterproductive. I want more finely tuned, less exploitative language applied in our relationship with the world (and each other). On all sides.
The problem with so much of the political environmental movement is its tendency towards the absolute. In religious terms, we have to reconcile two principles regarding the environment that balance against each other: that we are mere stewards of God’s creation and that we have been given the resources of the Earth for our use and benefit in multiplying and replenishing the Earth. Would I support the wonton destruction of forests? Of course not. Might I support the destruction of a forest to provide space and resources for a growing community? Well that’s a different story.
Every benefit has a cost. That includes pristine forests, clean waters, and pure air. Too often, environmentalists raise the value of the benefits or the costs of inaction to be infite (usually implicitly). I’m afraid that I’ve stopped taking them seriously until they can start talking about the cost of their desired benefits and the trade-offs involved. Forests might be pretty to visit, but there’s a reason I live in the city.
Julie, good points.
I think, too, (I hope we would all agree) that we do already have the doctrinal support for the concept of caring for the earth. Look up ‘care earth’ on lds.org and you will see even articles from the past 10 years or so (plus others) on the topic. (Even True to the Faith says: “As a beneficiary of all the beauties of creation, you can care for the earth and help preserve it for future generations.”) In a brief search (I’m sure others could be done) I saw glimpses of things like teaching children to turn off faucets, recycling, and a man saving rain forests. Our Church is certainly not silent on this topic, even if we don’t hear grand public statements supporting the more political side of environmentalism.
Besides, I think specifics like which kinds of diapers to use really seem to be at the level of being commanded in all things, rather than letting us do good of our own free will and conscience. I think it’s actually great that we each have the space to make decisions in this regard.
mmiles, I loved seeing a sign like that at the San Diego temple. I think there are other ways the Church has shown a concern for our stewardships to subdue the earth, to care for it. I think of Pres. Kimball’s passionate pleas for us to garden, and of the welfare principles that can (should) keep us from rampant consumerism, just to name a couple of concepts that are not foreign to us. But by example and precept, we are also taught to beautify the earth at the same time, which I think is wonderful as well. (If only I could figure out the yard and garden thing….)
Sorry, PGK. All, lets not turn this into an environmental politics debate.
As for me, I think both the language of love and the language of guilt are unlikely to change my political views. The language of guilt might have some effect on my personal behavior, though I’ve been exposed to it enough that the results are likely counterpositive. The language of love is unlikely to affect my personal behavior. But the language of love does make me notice more the world around me.
The unidentified study:
Marshall Massey, “Where Are Our Churches Today? A Report on the Environmental Positions of the Thirty Largest Christian Denominations in the United States,” Firmament, vol. 2, no. 4, Winter, 1991.
Adam, #14: “As for me, I think both the language of love and the language of guilt are unlikely to change my political views…”
To be expected.
“The language of love is unlikely to affect my personal behavior. But the language of love does make me notice more the world around me.”
Noticing more the world around you isn’t a change in your personal behavior?
Justin, the source of all references, thanks. I looked for the attribution in the book. Did I miss it? If so, my wrong.
Actually, I don’t have a copy of New Genesis, PK, so I can’t say whether it’s cited. I’ve come across references to the report in other sources.
Jacob, #12: “The problem with so much of the political environmental movement is its tendency towards the absolute.”
This raises an interesting question for me: What would a religious environment movement look like? Better balancing of the stewardship-replenishing dynamic? A complete reworking of our stewardship ethic based on deeper religious understanding of God’s best intentions for us (which once included becoming like Him)? Something else that we can’t even imagine yet because our understanding of creation, with both big and little “C”, is still developing?
PK, I assume you mean, “What would a ‘good’ or ‘proper’ or ‘inspired’ religious environment movement look like?” Is that correct?
PK: Good questions. When it comes right down to it, God himself doesn\’t give us a lot of absolutes. It\’s as if we\’re supposed to learn how to balance competing principles or something. Which is, I think, the answer: that we need to learn to balance the use of natural resources needed to provide growth and health to man with the exhortation to use those resources wisely and with respect. I wouldn\’t wait for us to come to some greater understanding of creation or stewardship so much as I\’d push for a change in the adversarial/absolute approach to the topic. Recognition that we are looking at a trade-off between competing goods would be a *huge* step forward.
To me, there are so many things that need to be addressed (both with regard to the environment and so many other issues) that a proper religious environmental movement would be one that taught correct principles and let (encouraged strongly) the members govern themselves – to do something, but not to try to dictate uniformity in that effort. Personally, I prefer the “love” approach over the hellfire and damnation approach, but that’s more a function of core personality than anything else.
Ray #20: Let’s go with inspired.
Jacob, #21: “Which is, I think, the answer: that we need to learn to balance the use of natural resources needed to provide growth and health to man with the exhortation to use those resources wisely and with respect.”
What if what provides for the progression and well being of man includes what provides for the progression and well being of other species?
“I wouldn\â€™t wait for us to come to some greater understanding of creation or stewardship so much as I\â€™d push for a change in the adversarial/absolute approach to the topic.”
I’m not waiting; I’m promoting. Both that we gain the sense of progression we need to come to greater understanding and that we change our approach to the topic.
Ray, #22: “Personally, I prefer the â€œloveâ€ approach over the hellfire and damnation approach, but thatâ€™s more a function of core personality than anything else.”
Questions about what would make for an inspired religious environmental movement might have to investigate the nature of love. I don’t think we’ve settled that one yet, either.
I know, I know, I know: it’s 2007. But there was a time when the Church dreamed more of the beauty of Nature. “Making the Desert Bloom Like a Rose”. Tree planting, water projects, wide roads.
Yes, Yes, these Mormons were farmers. Still, the Church had a vision that was more in tune with Nature …than it does today.
Bob, that might be true in largely urban America, but you’d have a hard time convincing those in Third World countries of that perspective when it is Mormon humanitarian missionaries who are helping them construct the wells that supply their villages, along with many other initiatives. Just because the Church doesn’t preach a unified environmental message from each and every pulpit, that doesn’t mean it isn’t doing a lot to address environmental concerns on a very practical level. In fact, I dare say that the Church has done thus far (in practical terms) as much as, if not more than, Al Gore and all of Hollywood have done combined. (and certainly more than any other religion of its size) These efforts have not been as public, but the impact on individual lives, IMO, has been greater.
I have no problem if the Church’s focus is on relieving personal and societal suffering among the poor in developing countries, while letting other organizations deal with more scientifically defined environmental issues.
What would a religious environment movement look like? Better balancing of the stewardship-replenishing dynamic? A complete reworking of our stewardship ethic based on deeper religious understanding of Godâ€™s best intentions for us (which once included becoming like Him)? Something else that we canâ€™t even imagine yet because our understanding of creation, with both big and little â€œCâ€, is still developing?
Last night, my wife and I attended a talk by Thich Nhat Hahn addressing environmental issues from within the context of his Buddhist tradition. The basic conceptual framework he used was Buddhist, but perhaps the concepts are translatable to our tradition.
He started by discussing the relationship between a mind and a body, noting that neither one manifests without the other. We have no way of perceiving a mind absent a body, and a body absent a mind is simply earth and water. What defines both is the interaction between them, rather than some particular quintessence. He noted that while we may ordinarily think of ourselves as separate and distinct from our environments, in fact we breathe in from the air around us, we breath out into the environment — that despite the contours of our skin, each of us is experientially inseparable from our environment. In that context, he made the point that mindful awareness of both mind and body experience enables us to live more skillfully and with greater corellation between our intentions and our results. He also noted that compassion and loving kindness are more available to us as we practice mindfulness. He discussed the inevitability of death and noted that a number of the ways that we consider, or avoid considering, death actually increase our suffering.
He then moved to the relationship between the individual and the society, ranging from family to neighborhood to city to nation. He applied the same basic structure to this discussion — the value of mindfulness in interactions with others, a basic respect and compassion for the others we interact with. He remarked on the social environment in which we raise our children, the violence that we present as entertainment and publish in the name of freedom, of the counterproductive ways that our society engages in these practices.
From there, he moved to a discussion of the relationship between the individual and the natural world around us, making parallel observations and points about mindfulness, bringing awareness to how we consume earth’s resources. In this context, he discussed the number of children reported to die from starvation each year, and compared that with the amount of grain used as fodder for livestock and for the production of alcohol each year. He encouraged active ethical thinking about the ways that we could make resources available to the needs of others by reducing our own unskillful consumption of resources.
Despite the Buddhist gloss on his remarks, I came away with a clear sense of the need for mindful awareness in our interactions in each of those “environments,” as well as a sense of how my own conduct could be more consistent with the ethics I espouse.
Upon reflection, much of what the gospels report that Jesus taught was, essentially, his effort to bring to his audience’s awareness the effects of their own failures to live up to the principles they espouse.
That can be done by guilting the lilies, but it can also be done gently, kindly, clearly, and pointedly, as it was last night.
Noticing more the world around you isnâ€™t a change in your personal behavior?
Sure, but I had in mind stuff like buying a hybrid or getting one of those low-flush toilets.
#27:Ray I hear the drums of the Left and Right, and I withdraw. You may have Al Gore. But Hollywood? I don’t know. I think movies like “How Green Was My Valley”..helped us understand: At what…. the ‘Modern World’?
#30: At what cost…the ‘Modern World’?
Bob, I was not beating the political drums; I just grabbed the most obvious examples. I also said “thus far in practical terms” – not necessarily educational terms that, while very important, might or might not have produced yet the kind of practical effect that safe and sustainable water does to a village. I am a former school teacher, and I still am an educator at heart, so I do not devalue educational efforts. I just think the Church’s charitable work is *much* more extensive and has a *much* broader environmental impact than most people, including members, realize. My comparison might have been a bit hyperbolic, but it’s closer to accurate, IMO, than most people understand.
My apologies for whatever I contributed to the wrong direction. Obviously, I didn’t get what you were looking for here.
As for me and my house, clarity in doctrinal teachings and the Spirit are what motivate, in the ideal. But I’m still too prone to guilt. But I find guilt a terrible motivator because the choice doesn’t come as much from the heart, but from trying to relieve some pressure from the outside, some perceived way in which I’m not ‘performing’ enough. For me, when it comes to environmental issues, I get pretty protective of my need to sort through the “facts” (which are often muddied and sometimes contradictory), seek guidance of the Spirit, and do the best I can within the realm of my life and limitations. (I’m the same way with anything that people can be passionate about, and passionate in an ‘it’s part of our religion’ kind of way). It’s way too easy to run faster than we have strength individually with these kinds of issues, IMO, and I HAVE to have balance with these kinds of things.
Therefore, if someone wants to motivate me, they will best be able to do it through the whole teaching correct principles thing. On a practical note, I also like it when people brainstorm ideas of ways I can ‘stand a little taller’ and do a little better — practical suggestions like ‘recycle’ or ‘buy local’ or ‘open your blinds and turn off the lights.’
I also just want to say that I loved the following and think it hits the nail on the head with this issue: “Recognition that we are looking at a trade-off between competing goods would be a *huge* step forward.” In my mind, there is no ‘one right answer’ for solving the problems of caring for the earth. In fact, I have sometimes wondered if some of us have passions for things that others don’t so that each of us can focus on something so that good can be done by lots of people in lots of ways. (Don’t know if that makes sense.)
In my mind, there is no â€˜one right answerâ€™ for solving the problems of caring for the earth.
Looks like others may feel that way, too.
I think this is all another reason to stick to general principles when trying to initiate or encourage change — the specific ‘solutions’ are still up for grabs, and not even agreed upon.
Ray, as an educator who values educational efforts, why do you reckon that that the Church does far more for the environment than most people, including members, seem to understand? Are most people in your experience that easily distracted by smoke and mirrors or simply content to lead an unquestioning life of ignorance?
Pardon this lengthy post. It’s not addressed to anyone in particular….
This post isnâ€™t about whether the church officially or unofficially does or doesnâ€™t show interest in environmentalist concerns. Itâ€™s about the kind of language people use when they talk about these things.
In my experience, it’s frequently the language of hostility. There always seems to be an immediate assumption that some cabal of one-world-government lefties and lentil eaters is trying to ruin the party when environmental issues are raised.
It is true that the environment and climate change can be used as Trojan Horses to smuggle along other agendas such as wealth distribution or general anti-capitalism, but this fact itself is too often used as a decoy argument to avoid admitting how unwilling we are to change our behaviour, even if the whole planet and its most vulnerable people have to pay a terrible price.
Here in the UK I worked for 2 years at a Christian international development agency. They were focused on debt, poverty, trade, AIDS and women’s rights. Environmental issues were touched on only intermittently, for example the environmental damage done by mining companies in Peru or the Philippines, or the issue of ecological debt.
(Ecological debt: This is the principle that in driving climate change with its devastating threat to poor and vulnerable countries, we in the industrialised West have already used up far more than our fair ‘share’ of the carbon tolerance/sensitivity – in terms of ‘climate security’ for humans – of the atmosphere, leaving developing countries no real chance to develop as we have without risking the entire planet facing ecological meltdown. Thus we have used their share of the atmosphere as well and are in ecological debt to them. This principle is used to argue that third world debts should be cancelled not for ‘charitable’ or ‘moral’ reasons but simply for accounting ones.)
When the agency I worked for finally decided to make climate change their primary campaigning issue there was a surprising amount of resistance to the idea within the organisation. I was doing policy research and discovering just how profoundly real the climate change threat was – which surprised me deeply. But many complained that ‘environmental’ and ‘climate change issues ought to be left to specialist organisations such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth.
What I realised after a while was that language indeed had a lot to do with it.
I realised that many anti-poverty campaigners were accustomed to using ‘language’ which villainised other people: the WTO, the World Bank, Shell in Nigeria, the various other corporate or international entities whose attitudes and behaviour harmed poor people in poor countries. The campaigners themselves were slightly heroic figures battling evil.
But the uncomfortable strangeness of climate change or environmental issues is that there is no ‘them’.
‘Them’ is us.
It’s not the oil companies that are to blame if I myself live a life that relies entirely on oil. It’s not goverment to blame for inaction government because knows perfectly well how we would behave if they stopped catering to our greed for easy and ecologically unfriendly living. Suddenly, at the development agency â€“ a Christian agency – we were obliged to recognise that our own lifestyles caused poverty as surely as the wicked World Bank and WTO and wicked Shell in Nigeria, which after all was only destroying the Nile Delta so that we could go on living quite comfortably, thank you very much.
From the LDS perspective, any latter-day saint in good church standing is accustomed to language which frames his or her self as the good guy, and out there are the many ‘villains’: anti-mormons, unfriendly journalists, drug-pushers, pornographers, gay-people-with-their-wicked-political-agendas…
Climate change and the huge leap in the seriousness of the global environmental crisis has caught us all unaware, and this applies to Mormons as well. We’re all suddenly disquieted to find that there is no particularly devilish individual or wicked ‘them’ we can point the finger at. We’re all to blame for living at levels of profligate, careless and wasteful consumption the planetary ecosystem simply can’t sustain.
This is one reason why the ‘guilt’ thing doesn’t work. I’ve read loads of shrill climate change books by chaps who were flying all around the world – to visit places where climate change was causing serious problems to vulnerable people – to report to me how burning fossils fuels – for instance by flying all over the place – was to blame and I ought not to do it very much.
I don’t fly and I’m able to walk to work, recycle, and everything else. But I also know that the minute I raise the climate change issue people will say, well you’re not exactly living in dire circumstances, you’ve got a home and a good life so don’t preach to us.
And they’re right.
This fact that none of us is in a position to point the finger when it comes to the environment means that we are all – in a sense – guilty together, and I think there’s a subconscious shame we all feel together in that. Shame that we’ve been living so high on the hog we’ve deeply gouged nature itself. Because we share it, we’re often too embarrassed to talk about it.
Or we can only talk about it angrily, and angrily try to locate some ‘them’ to be angry at. (The Lentil-eaters for instance.)
As you say Patricia, we often become defiant when any of this pointed out.
And yet if guilt doesn’t work, it’s also true that, somehow, ‘love’ for nature isn’t a predominant LDS theme. The environment is emphatically NOT a common LDS concern in the sense of being discussed on such a daily basis as salvation is, for instance, and yet it is undoubtably the biggest issue facing humanity. What does that say?
Is it because the earth – after all – will evidently be ‘replenished’ when the Saviour returns? So there’s no real urgency?
Neither guilt nor love are in a position to make environmental or ecological issues into mainstream LDS concerns. And the habits of collective LDS language – conditioned by so much historical and instinctive defensiveness – won’t easily allow an admission that there is one area in which LDS members have certainly not been in ‘in the world but not of the world’ and are as guilty as we all are – including myself – of having not done more, consumed less and wasted less.
I think the Church itself – and a minority of members – is quietly going about improving environmental performance on an impressive and committed scale. But I do wish – and I think it’s important – that before too long the leadership raise the profile and become more public on ecological issues, and also – irregardless of the ‘political’ connotations – on climate change.
The Church is ideally placed to remove the ‘political’ from issue for the membership and make – in terms of language – the connection between environmental responsibility and moral responsibility.
Sorry for the accidental multiple submission of that post..Patricia are you able to remove the duplication?
Sorry also for the accidental italicisation of that big section after the initial quote. Any chance of asking you to de-italicise it all for me? I’m still learning how to use html.
There are a lot of things the Church could do, and no shortage of people inside and outside clamoring for the Church to do them: join this-or-that anti-poverty measure, sponsor this-or-that world health crisis improvement program, speak out for/against this-or-that political/humanitarian/environmental matter. Not to pick on Kyle R, but his comment is visible on my screen and provides a good example: But I do wish – and I think itâ€™s important – that before too long the leadership raise the profile and become more public on ecological issues, and also – irregardless of the â€˜politicalâ€™ connotations – on climate change.
The thing is, “climate change” does not fall within the Church’s mission. There are many, many, many organizations who can tackle such issues; there is only one institution with the ability to perfect the Saints, preach the gospel, and save the dead. That’s where the Church’s chief efforts must lie, and anybody who insists it do otherwise is going to be terribly frustrated.
Individual [wo]men, or individuals joining together, can “do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” Individuals can engage in the appropriate political process; individuals, including Church leaders, can emphasize our peculiarly Mormon concept of the spiritual origins of the physical world and whatever implications that has for environmental concerns. The Church might as an administrative decision adopt, say, more ecologically friendly landscaping, or evaluate the environmental impact of millions of plastic Sacrament cups used weekly, or otherwise improve its institutional impact on the environment.
But for the Church to assume a prominent public profile championing any political environmental movement? That isn’t the Church’s mandate.
Well said Ardis. I agree with you completely.
Ardis, I appreciate that the Church can’t climb on a white charger over every social issue and that it’s focus is spiritual. It generally does an exemplary job in this mandate. I think it is in fact looking thoroughly at it’s own environmental behaviour and I would expect many constructive changes to be made in this respect: water usage, building construction, travel policy, and yes, plastic cups.
My end comments were more an addendum to the guilt/love language issue raised by Patricia than a demand for public action. It does, however, seem to me appropriate for the ‘just use of resources’ and ‘stewardship of the earth’ issues to be raised much more frequently in General Conference, considering their importance for poverty stricken people – especially vulnerable Children of God – in developing countries
It’s also strange that nuclear waste in Utah and SSM are considered issues worth public statements, but the much larger moral – and spiritual – imperative that climate change and worldwide environmental degradation force on us are not. Encouraging the saints to care more deeply about these issues would be a great way of perfecting them.
Again, for anyone who reads my post I apologise about all the italics.
#38 Kyle: I’m still learning html myself, but I went in and tried to remove the italics and it looks like I mostly succeeded. If I messed anything else up in process, let me know.
#43 Thanks Patricia. Sorry for the trouble. I suppose if you were to re-italicise just the initial quote of your own words: “This post isnâ€™t about… Itâ€™s about the kind of language people use when they talk about these things.” that might be good, since that was a quote and what I wanted to respond to.
Thanks for your post by the way. Great to see the issue raised and hope you’ll pardon my going on at such length.
Itâ€™s also strange that nuclear waste in Utah and SSM are considered issues worth public statements, but the much larger moral – and spiritual – imperative that climate change and worldwide environmental degradation force on us are not. Encouraging the saints to care more deeply about these issues would be a great way of perfecting them.
The Church’s involvement on the issue of nuclear waste in Utah was not about theology or morality and has no impliciations beyond the specifics of that limited issue. Love the fact or hate it, the Church as a corporate institution (distinct from its worldwide spiritual/moral aspect) is a citizen of Utah with a very loud voice, no matter how softly it tries to whisper. Nuclear waste in Utah was a local political issue in which the Church was involved as a local political voice. The Church doesn’t have the same political footprint elsewhere.
SSM is a matter that the Church sees as directly impacting all three of its missions because of its effect on the family unit and on individual righteousness/sinfulness. You may see it as solely a political or social issue, or see other political or social issues as “much larger,” but your perspective is not that of the Church — as evidenced by your concept of “perfecting the Saints.” Sorry, but you’re speaking a foreign language.
Ardis, for some reason your carefully-reasoned #39 immediately brought to mind the title of Hugh Nibley’s less elegantly (but amusingly) titled essay rebutting Fawn McK. Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith: “No Ma’am That’s Not History.” You’ve put your finger on a question that I’ve seen neglected throughout my years in the consulting world:”Who’s job/role is this?” CEOs and other leaders are by instinct problem-solvers if not controlling types. If someone in the organization brings her a problem, she solves it instead of first asking the problem-bearer whether there’s somone else in the organization who should be tackling that issue. The result is a lot of time and energy diverted from the organization’s and leader’s main mission. You’ve reminded us that the leaders of churches too need to ask the same question and partake of the thought processs that you’ve expressed so helpfully.
I suppose I am speaking a foreign language Ardis. But I wonder why I am. I wonder why the spiritual, ethical and moral perspective of the saints themselves doesn’t make a very serious concern about environment/climate change issues – especially their effect on the poor and vulnerable – come naturally.
The Christian perspective – which the Latter Day Saints share – has put these issues at the top of the agenda for Anglicans and many evangelical alliances.
Some simple things:
Change the Sunday uniform during the summer, and stop cooling the church buildings so much. It’s ridiculous to wear a jacket on a 90-degree day so we can stay warm in the cold chapel while our wives and our daughters in their summer dresses bring sweaters to keep warm.
Change the landscaping in the desert. Get rid of all those water-guzzling lawns around chapels (or rent them out as pitch and putt golf courses!), and replace them with landscaping that is sustainable without so much added water.
Preach stewardship. The doctrine is there, but we need constant reminders.
I simply want to second what Ray has expressed. I interpreted once at a UN talking shop that brought North and South American women together to discuss shared issues, and frankly, on the environment, there was a huge disconnect … clean water, the basics, bottom line, if someone’s got the funds or competence to help address these in the developing world, more power to you. I was humbled that week to realize the extent to which my lentil-eating might be interpreted as navel-gazing. To the extent that the LDS contribute to practical solutions on the ground, good on you.
For those of us who can’t be directly involved in solving these problems, ‘mindfulness’ is a lovely word.
#27 Ray: “Just because the Church doesnâ€™t preach a unified environmental message from each and every pulpit, that doesnâ€™t mean it isnâ€™t doing a lot to address environmental concerns on a very practical level. In fact, I dare say that the Church has done thus far (in practical terms) as much as, if not more than, Al Gore and all of Hollywood have done combined. (and certainly more than any other religion of its size) These efforts have not been as public, but the impact on individual lives, IMO, has been greater.
I have no problem if the Churchâ€™s focus is on relieving personal and societal suffering among the poor in developing countries, while letting other organizations deal with more scientifically defined environmental issues.”
Ray and everybody else defending the church’s honor in this regard: Let’s take it as a given that the church is doing more than it gets credit for doing. For instance, a year ago the landscape architects the church hired for the Conference Center won an award for their work on that building’s greenroof. I wrote on that award here: http://www.motleyvision.org/?p=281
The link to the announcement is broken, but here’s a new one:
Scroll down to page nine.
This award is no mere prettiness award; it acknowledges real effort in vanguard architectural designs that incorporate truly environmentally sound principles into their aesthetics.
So let’s just take it as so that the church does stuff on this front. Though they do, they rarely come out and say, “Look, here’s a list of the cool humanitarian and environmental projects and practices we’ve undertaken.” Except for the especially well-languaged membership involved directly in these projects and practices, few others take note of what’s going on. We don’t hear members getting up at the pulpit–at least, I haven’t yet–saying, “I toured the Conference Center’s greenroof last week and let me tell you what a wonder of environmental engineering that place is! In incorporates the best modern scientific principles for sustainable living at that building’s scale and purpose to meet prophets’ admonitions that we beautify our surroundings. The Conference Center’s rooftop ties worship to creation in a way I’ve never seen before.” Or even, “Wow, by spending the money and effort to put this greenroof over the Conference Center the church will save countless tithing dollars in the future. This makes good business sense and makes me think of the parable of the talents in the New Testament. We should all look to the Conference Center as an example for how we should build and remodel our own homes.” Etc. I would be delighted to hear such awakening language coming over the pulpit and people saying, “Huh, maybe I better pay more attention to that roof next time I go to Salt Lake City for Conference.”
As always, I’m interested in language that opens up prospects (Latin, prospicere, “to look forward”). A lot of environmentalist language comes off as being too similar to the worst “religious” language. Where either camp uses langauge to close off prospects or is incapable of seeing them, that indicates to me they’re sharing the same mindset. I see the best language as doing something altogether different, something to the mind of the speaker, something to the mind of the hearer. Something more than painting a portrait of the creation in tones of guilt, disappointment, and inevitable decline.
Wow, everyone! Thanks for your comments! I’m falling sadly behind in responding to them and now I’ve got to get to work. Be back as soon as I can!
Kyle R, by “foreign language,” I mean you don’t quite recognize what Mormons mean by “perfecting the Saints.” It’s a term of art. It refers to gospel ordinances and temple covenants, and living a life with an eye on the specific eternal goals encompassed by those ordinances and covenants.
“Perfecting the Saints,” therefore, is not quite the same as living a decent and ethical life as defined by honorable, caring, but not necessarily inspired men, regardless of their Christian affiliation and well-meant aspirations. Sometimes the two meanings of “perfect” do overlap, but that’s coincidental.
For those of us who canâ€™t be directly involved in solving these problems, â€˜mindfulnessâ€™ is a lovely word.
fwiw, that last line was not meant to be snarky. Mark B. in #48 expressed the kind of mindfulness that greenfrog’s comment brought to mind … not necessarily arriving at solutions to global problems, but rather identifying how to be mindful of what we can do in our own context, whilst being mindful, per Ray, that this discussion plays out differently in different places.
does, however, seem to me appropriate for the â€˜just use of resourcesâ€™ and â€™stewardship of the earthâ€™ issues to be raised much more frequently in General Conference, considering their importance for poverty stricken people – especially vulnerable Children of God – in developing countries
Its not uncontroversial that environmental measures are in the best interests of the third-world poor.
It’s not uncontroversial to me that we’re apparently set on placing tariffs on biofuel from Brazil.
Some lentil-eaters, go figure, are also free-marketers.
PK: “What if what provides for the progression and well being of man includes what provides for the progression and well being of other species?”
If there were any scriptural/prophetic support for that speculation, I’d be willing to incorporate it into my personal gospel context. Since God has been pretty explicit about many things that provide for our progression (and many things that detract from it), I’ll put my emphasis on those things by preference. I’m not saying that just because God hasn’t specifically said that our progression and well being are affected by the well being of other species that it *isn’t* the case. I’m just saying that I don’t feel any obligation to consider it to be so when He hasn’t.
Absent God’s direct endorsement of the idea that our progression is affected by the well being of other species, I’d need some convincing arguments that it is so *first*. Unfortunately, too much of the discussion of such issues focus on tone rather than content. To redirect this to the point of your original post, I could care less if someone uses guilt or love language to convey an environmental message. I’m more interested in fact and reason and principle than in the envelope they’re delivered in.
When it comes right down to it both loving language and shaming language are just different ways to manipulate. I’d prefer it if people would instead concentrate on trying to convince.
Perhaps we can find common ground railing against Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but that would mean admitting that we have our own homegrown CAP in the States .. then again, maybe you’re cool with CAP?
Kyle # 36 & others: I am a card carrying lefty. I too dream good hearts will take us to a good place. But my faith is weak. My good friends on the right tell me Technology is the only real hope to save the World. Not better hearts..but better filters. In the past, a Voice would show up (not Al Gore), like a Rachel Carlson to unite us, help us find the way.
#52 Thanks for clarifying Ardis. I’ve been reading a lot of LDS material but the specific meaning of ‘perfecting the saints’ had indeed sailed passed by me. Leaving aside the issue of the LDS church , I hope my points about ‘environmental guilt’ made more general sense. It’s difficult for me to get an idea of how this plays out in America because here in the UK it’s a very high profile subject.
#54 There is enormous controversy over it, depending on which environmental measures one is discussing. A simple example are dams that provide water to people and land but result in the destruction of wetlands. Although the wetlands aren’t agriculturally productive, the destruction of them has an unexpectedly serious ecological knock-on effect which, specialists argue, makes the whole ‘environmental measure’ of dam building an environmentally destructive measure. China has done carried out some insane river diversions.
Land use in general – in developing countries – is a controversial subject with respect to climate change.
But there is a huge consensus amongst the world’s scientists – a consensus the media consistently waters down for the sake of false kind of ‘balanced’ reporting – that humans are increasing global warming at an exponential rate over and above natural variation.
This is already having a terrible effect on people whose livelihoods are marginal and depend intimately on ecosystems. Any competent biologist can tell you what’s happening at the moment to the world’s ecosystems. It’s nightmarish.
Surely the ‘environmental measure’ of cutting back enormously on our energy use and switching as quickly as possible to renewable – particularly solar – energy is not controversial. It clearly will benefit the third-world poor.
While we’re at it. If we weren’t so greedy for minerals we might be doing their habitats a favour as well.
The only thing that’s controversial is the economic accomodation we ourselves have to make.
I don’t think I agree with much of that, Kyle R., but PGK has asked us not to get into those kinds of arguments.
Reflecting on your central question, my practice of law, and the colloquy between Ardis Parshall and Kyle R over the meaning of “perfecting the saints” brings a couple of ideas to mind.
First, lawyers frequently debate the intended meaning of authoritative phrases, applying various techniques to evaluate and embody in rhetorically persuasive language a particular idea. While I tend to think of that operation as distinctively legalistic approach, I recognize that it is common to any effort to determine whether a particular authoritative statement bears on a particular question. The discussion about whether “perfecting the Saints” should be understood to have the broader, more flexible meaning that KyleR ascribes to it, or the narrower, more inside-baseball meaning that Ardis Parshall ascribes to it is, in either event, an appeal to a kind of legislative history — discerning the intent of a particular speaker (in this instance, a corporate one) that made a particular statement at a particular time.
FWIW, those exercises often result in simple disagreement. One person reads the authoritative statement one way, the other reads it differently. But both continue to agree that the right rhetorical stance toward the issue is one of resolving the meaning of someone else’s statement.
From my perspective, Mormons (myself included) tend to be authority-oriented creatures, whether by self-selection, or other factors. If that’s right, then almost any endeavor to articulate “shoulds” and “oughts” will devolve into legalistic attempts to construe authority — which we tend to think of as the ultimate source of all “shoulds” and “oughts.”
I understand some of your comments on this thread to suggest that you find “shoulds” and “oughts” particularly ineffective, though I’m not sure I understand fully why you feel that is so. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you.
Drawing from a relatively commonplace point in legal circles, while the interpretation of authoritative statements is a normal way for those without final say-so to proceed to interpret authoritative statements in order to approximate what the authority meant by the statement (and therefore what the authority would do in a given situation), such an approach is functionally useless to those who actually hold the authority — rather than using rhetorical approaches to figure out what the authority would do, the authority must look to some other criterion to make a particular decision.
This distinction highlights the persistent internal tension of Mormonism — a religion that espouses strict adherence to earthly authority and the idea that each person has direct access to the ultimate authority — a variety of radical independence.
In the context of authority (which I recognize you may or may not believe to be correct or useful for this discussion), as I understand your thoughts on this thread, they suggest that you prefer language and thought patterns that might appeal to the authority, rather than language and thought patterns that might appeal to those trying to figure out what the authority would do in a given situation.
If that’s correct, it seems to me that there are, even within your preferred approach, several rhetorical alternatives: the articulation of one’s own contextually specific values — whether osprey or daughter; the elaboration of a basic and commonly held value that, when elaborated illuminates ways that our actions don’t match our values — such as Thich Nhat Hahn did in the talk I summarized; a third alternative that comes to mind might be simply the articulation of the facts — field notes, as it were. This latter approach provides others with the same data set and relies on the strength of those facts in the context of commonly held values to lead to conduct that might not otherwise occur in ignorance of those facts. As an example of the latter (outside of field notes, of course) I think of Fritjof Capra’s The Web of Life.
#56 Biofuel is a red herring in any case. A year ago there was a study – by an American University I believe, and I could track it down in my files if anyone was interested – that essentially showed the world was maxing out on land that can be profitably turned to agriculture. With the UN expecting world population to balloon to 9 billion before it plateaus, the plan to use enormous tracks of land to grow biofuels is insane.
#57 The European Common Agricultural Policy is simply wickedness.
#58 Politicians talk about techno-fixes but hardly any competent scientists do with any seriousness.
The one thing that biofuels, techno-fixes and – for that matter – carbon offsets have in common is that they avoid the essential problem of reducing energy use. No politician wants to be talking about the necessary austerity to our ‘he who has the most toys wins’ culture.
But then, I’ll admit that I come from Scottish Calvinist stock and we love austerity. When oil runs out I’ve got mattresses stuffed with pound notes I can burn to keep warm.
#60 Ah of course I lost sight of that. Thanks for the reminder Adam and Patricia apologies for the tangents. Thanks again for your great post. I’m off home for some lentils now.
56 Biofuel is a red herring in any case.
If it’s insane for Brazil, I suppose it must be insane for the States as well … tell that to the folks from my part of the USA who are banking/lobbying/voting to see that (pick your midwestern crop) gets written into the next great scheme to make ourselves ‘energy independent’ …
In any case, your ‘Them’ is ‘Us’ formulation was spot on. Not sure where we parted ways. Sorry to hear that your way involves lentils.
The LDS Church strongly supports Scouting and one mandatory BSA requirement for Eagle Scout is completion of the Environmental Science Merit Badge. And all boy scouts are required to know and abide by the Outdoor Code. Even Cub Scouts has mandatory sections on the environment and recycling.
But oddly enought I don’t know where this requirement exists in any YW program.
Who is this man that has stolen my name?? After this post, I guess I’m changing my name to Jacob M, not to be confused with this other Jacob who has recently appeared.
Ironically, I thought this other Jacob had some good points. I am also shocked by Ardis and Adam agreeing on something! This truly is a day never to be forgotten.
As for the topic at hand, I think the most important thing for people concerned about our environmental state to focus on is the truth. Unfortunately, most of the environmental groups focus on hyperbolie (however that’s spelled) or overstatement of the dangers. If the focus changes from “Global Warming Will Destroy Us All” to, say, “Putting Trash In A Wastebasket Makes Your Trip To The Beach Much More Enjoyable”, you have an increased likelyhood of action. Granted, it’s not all that increased (witness the churches incessant “Do Your Home Teaching” mantra, and it’s success (or lack therof)).
I am also shocked by Ardis and Adam agreeing on something!
One or the other of us must have made a typo. Breathe calmly and slowly, and elevate your feet if needed, and the shock will eventually pass. Above all, DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH waiting for a repetition!
Right on #66. Let this be a lesson to all of you commenting for the first time. Pick a good blogname.
#62: I grew up in L.A., CA. As a kid, there were days we could not see across the playground, or breathe deeply, due to the Smog. That’s all gone. Not by Good Hearts or Conservation. But catoletic converters, lead free gas, cars getting 30 MPG. Two nights ago, we had a ‘Brown out” for eight hrs. We had some sickly yellow lights due low power, but one light, one of those curly ones that give 90w for 13 Watts of power, was fully on. I was living in a dark world of half Conservation and half Technology.
Very well said, Ardis.
#62: ” I come from Scottish Calvinist stock and we love austerity”. Well, I still have the second dollar I ever made, (The first one went for a wallet to keep that second one in!!)
Sorry, this comment is apropos of nothing, other than that I had a very nice lunch with an active Mormon expat in Taipei today, thanks entirely to my being a regular annoyance at T&S, and so I’m feeling particularly grateful to this venue at the moment, and, unfortunately for everyone else here, exceptionally chatty …
I salute Guy Murray’s work posting West Africa Ghana Mission updates over at Messenger & Advocate … that’s the kind of stuff that summons up a grudging respect for The Work that threatens to blossom into a full-blown admiration powerful enough to displace my cognitive dissonance, but not just yet. For that, I’d need to see some admission regarding the provisional nature of truth and identity that I’ve not yet seen from some of the heavy hitters in these parts, i.e.,it’s all on you, how’s that for guilt?
Anyway, I don’t know how the latest ‘Charlotte’s Web’ rates vs the original screen attempt, but my kids enjoyed it, even if they’re not ready for the other stuff E.B. White wrote, like …
“Before you can be an internationalist you have first to be a naturalist and feel the ground under you making a whole circle.”
Kum Ba Yah.
# 49, 53 etc. Chino Blanco: Thanks for swinging the telescope around to focus on “our own contexts” (along with Ray and greenfrog).
Lacking skills and funds, idealism’s pockets might be fashionably stitched but are empty. I can have this discussion here but can’t, really, with some of my Native American neighbors, many of whom need to learn work, language, and social skills to improve their circumstances more than they need to engage in gilded environmentalist chit-chat (though where traditional practices prevail, their historical connections to nature enjoy some degree of preservation). I agree with your and Ray’s assertion that were we to attempt this discussion in other places, the langauge would have to take on the broader and practical problems of humanitarianism. The “mindfulness begins at home” talk’s all good, what I was looking for, in fact.
Dangit, my name didn’t used to be that popular. I keep forgetting that it has changed since I was a kid–a fact I blogged about recently, actually. http://rabidpaladin.com/archive/2007/08/10/whats-in-a-name.aspx
I meet so many Proffitts.
My condolences, Adam…
Oh, no, its great. Would that all the people were Proffitts.
#56 Jacob: Since God has been pretty explicit about many things that provide for our progression (and many things that detract from it), Iâ€™ll put my emphasis on those things by preference. Iâ€™m not saying that just because God hasnâ€™t specifically said that our progression and well being are affected by the well being of other species that it *isnâ€™t* the case. Iâ€™m just saying that I donâ€™t feel any obligation to consider it to be so when He hasnâ€™t.
So, if I understand this, you’re saying that if God doesn’t explicitly say that a matter affects human progression, then you feel no obligation to consider the matter as relating to human progression.
Well, that’s all right, because that topic’s irrelevant to this post and I just threw it out there to see what would happen. You might want to inspect your reasoning, though–see if there’s a better way to look at the problem.
This, on the other hand, is another matter, because it is relevant: To redirect this to the point of your original post, I could care less if someone uses guilt or love language to convey an environmental message. Iâ€™m more interested in fact and reason and principle than in the envelope theyâ€™re delivered in. When it comes right down to it both loving language and shaming language are just different ways to manipulate. Iâ€™d prefer it if people would instead concentrate on trying to convince.
This underlying belief that language is a tool one picks up to complete some job at hand is a belief I’d like to see fall by the wayside. The best language always relies on sound reasoning, using evidence, rational exertion, and workable principles to examine the issue under consideration. The worst language opts for irrational and degrading rhetoric, with the purpose of exploitation. The best language engages and enables human agency. The worst language suppresses human agency.
“Loving language,” as you put it, that attempts to manipulate is manipulative language. A manipulative person might disguise her intent to manipulate you in language she believe you’ll think loving, but that disguise isn’t loving language; it’s manipulative language masquerading as loving language. Right?
I believe language that prompts and fosters human agency is caring, and yes, loving language, though that’s not all there is to it.
You appear to have presumed bad intent in “loving language.” I don’t see your reasoning for doing so, unless it lies with my lack of clarity about “loving language.” Maybe I’ve made my point more effectively now.
I have to check out again for a while. Hopefully, when I can come back, this thread won’t have completely died. I want to address more comments directly as soon as possible.
Adam – 77 – only if they’re involved with my bank account! (To continue on the absurd pun line)
And Mr. P – ok, you didn’t steal my name. I was born about 20 years after you according to when your chart began! (OK, slight exaggeration. Only 15)
PK: I think I worded my first point poorly leading to a misunderstanding. I didn’t say that I “feel no obligation to consider the matter as relating to human progression.” I said “I donâ€™t feel any obligation to consider it to be so.” If I were to rephrase that, I’d say that “I don’t feel any obligation to treat it as proven and thus act as if it were true.” If somebody wants me to accept something into my personal belief system in order to motivate action, I’d have to hear the reasons why I should do so before I’m actually interested in exploring the ramifications of that belief. I’m happy to consider their reasons at any time. Frankly, the only things I wouldn’t be willing to consider are things I feel are already proven false (a very small set indeed).
About loving language, let me see if I can explain why I consider this to be a discussion about how best to use language as a tool to manipulate people: You say in your conclusion “Could Mormons get behind movements to improve their behavior toward the Earth … that engaged in language â€œsuffused with loveâ€ rather than pickled in guilt?” This question has an underlying assumption that Mormons are behaving poorly towards the Earth and implies that they already know better–that it is a matter of motivating them to do what they know is right as opposed to convincing them that it is right. Your question is how can we improve behavior that is wrong when whether or not their behavior is wrong has not yet been settled satisfactorily. Since I know a good number of Mormons (myself included) who don’t consider their behavior towards the Earth to be wrong, I feel that your question has jumped the important step of “convincing” and moved on to the step of “motivating”. You are talking about changing the behavior of people who aren’t yet convinced that their behavior should be changed at all. That is a pretty good working definition of manipulation.
Now, if your question is really “Could Mormons who are already convinced that their behavior towards the Earth is wrong get behind movements to improve their behavior towards the Earth that engaged in language “suffused with love” rather than pickled in guilt?” then that’s a different question altogether. It seems to me that people who are already convinced that their behavior is wrong would be grateful for the love and understanding of people who seek to help them improve. Guilt (and the language of guilt) is only useful for those who know they are behaving badly and either don’t care or don’t want to do something hard to change. Even then, I’d say following up with an increase of love is important so my answer would be that any environmental message would do well to include a message couched in terms of love and appreciation even if they feel that they need to deliver a message of guilt as well.
But as I said, a message addressed to the Mormon population in general shouldn’t even get that far until they’ve taken the painful and more difficult step of convincing people their current behavior is wrong. Whether driving them by shame or enticing them with acceptance, any attempt to change their behavior is manipulation unless and until they are convinced that their current behavior is wrong.
#61 Great points. Loads I’d want to say Greenfrog but trying to respect Patricia’s thread.
#64 Biofuels are insane for the US as well. As for my lentils, I do not apologise. They make me feel so good I sometimes just hug a tree out of sheer happiness.
#69 Our power infrastructure in the UK is not far behind. Black outs in London would not be a pretty site.
#71 I don’t think I’ve ever earned a dollar. But if I did it would go into the stuffed mattresses as well.
#81 Jacob: About loving language, let me see if I can explain why I consider this to be a discussion about how best to use language as a tool to manipulate people: You say in your conclusion “Could Mormons get behind movements to improve their behavior toward the Earth â€¦ that engaged in language â€œsuffused with loveâ€ rather than pickled in guilt?â€ This question has an underlying assumption that Mormons are behaving poorly towards the Earth and implies that they already know betterâ€“that it is a matter of motivating them to do what they know is right as opposed to convincing them that it is right.
The best underlying assumption you can pull from that question is that Mormons could improve their behavior towards the Earth. Other comments I’ve made on this thread acknowledge that I believe that Mormons are doing more than they receive credit for. Environmentalists/conservationists, including and especially the best ones, would agree that even they could improve their behaviors towards the Earth.
“Whether driving them by shame or enticing them with acceptance, any attempt to change their behavior is manipulation unless and until they are convinced that their current behavior is wrong.”
I think not, but I don’t feel pressed to settle this.
#81 – I think manipulation is when someone who is not convinced of something tries to convince someone else of it for some kind of gain (money, power, prestige, gratification, etc.) – or when someone lies or intentionally distorts in order to get someone to do something they would not do otherwise (which really is a different way to say the same thing). Manipulation is not about how someone else views the issue; it’s about my integrity or hypocrisy – about my motives.
I have been a teacher and am now in sales and marketing. I also have been at various levels of management for the past 20 years. In each of these positions, a central part of my job has been trying to convince people (students and co-workers) to do things they don’t necessarily feel driven to do – often to get them to change their behavior when they aren’t convinced that behavior is wrong. Of course, I try to convince them that what they are expected to do is better than what they have been doing, but I still attempt to change their behavior even when they aren’t convinced yet. Sometimes, with some people, I actually compel that change with a threat of termination if they don’t accept the rules. That’s not always manipulation; often it’s simple leadership.
I also have been in a position where I was ordered to overlook records that were fabricated in an attempt to obtain a huge contract – and a different position where I was encouraged to use the classic bait-and-switch sales technique. Those are prime examples of manipulation, since those who ordered the actions knew they were lying and/or distorting to get gain.
If I firmly believe something, and if I use no conscious deceit in trying to convince others, I am not manipulating them no matter what their views are. Therefore, I am free to use whatever language I feel would produce the outcome I desire – which I believe is the heart of PK’s question. Personally, I perfer to be inspired to act rather than guilted to act, but if others respond to guilt then “guilting them” is fine. Our scriptures say that self-motivation produced by love is the highest prompt of action, but they also are clear that externally induced motivation (from fear or guilt) is acceptable, if necessary.
PK, my response to your last paragraph would be that “Mormons” are individuals and will respond to whatever motivates them personally. I would hope most of us would respond better to inspiration and love than to fear and guilt (correct principles with self-governance), but “effective” messaging would include all four.
With regard to how things are done in the Kingdom, it seems to me that the only instance when guilting someone into doing something might acceptable is when it is *incidental* to action taken by one who is inspired within the bounds of a specific stewardship. All else is love and daisies, man.
#36, Kyle: I’ve been meaning to thank you for your comment here. It’s prompted me to do better thinking about the issues at hand. I tend not to think of people as being separate from the environment, so I realized that when I say “environmental concerns” I’m including humanitarian concerns but not making that explicit.
Your points about the language invoked in the debate are well-taken. Here’s one place where I think we could talk some more, if there’s time:
Neither guilt nor love are in a position to make environmental or ecological issues into mainstream LDS concerns. And the habits of collective LDS language – conditioned by so much historical and instinctive defensiveness – wonâ€™t easily allow an admission that there is one area in which LDS members have certainly not been in â€˜in the world but not of the worldâ€™ and are as guilty as we all are – including myself – of having not done more, consumed less and wasted less.
I think what you’re saying here is that in the case where LDS employ language that allows for or even justifies waste and apathy, they are as guilty of being “of the world” as anybody else and of violating their own sense of community (being in the world but not of it). I think this is a meaningful point, but I wonder if it can be rendered more meaningfully.
Because I like people immensely, more than I can say, and because I have a handicapped daughter I’ve worked with extensively, I’ve found that increasing my capacity to care has changed both my language and my ability to create and choose from options. My daughter is an extreme case, but I learned that if I treated the outrage and terror she experienced on a daily basis years ago as real outrage and terror, even when my more-or-less fully functional brain saw the causes as trivial, she reached a point on her own where she could choose to behave differently. She began choosing not to rage and fear. I could have said, “Oh, come on–that was just a snow shovel scraping against the neighbor’s driveway–nothing to be afraid of.” Or, “That sound is just diners’ silverware clinking against their plates–you’re just being unreasonable.” But that would have given her reason to rage and fear more, because whatever I thought of the reasons for why she had those profound and extended reactions, her rage and her terror were both very real. She’s experienced enough and sophisticated enough now that when she has a temper tantrum–something altogether different from what she experienced as a baby–I can reason with her, sometimes employing what my husband calls “tough love.” That is, I take her into the bedroom and leave her there till she decides to get ahold of herself and play nice with the rest of us. You know, she has it tough. She has a right to some anger and frustration. But when it interferes with her care or the sanity of the rest of us, then I step in.
Many of us carry guilt, frustration, anger, disappointment about all kinds of things, in some cases, all on a hair trigger. That guilt and anger is all real guilt and anger, even where others might say, “Whoa, hold on, I think you’re overreacting here.” In my daughter’s case, I learned that certain kinds of behavior and language helped her reach a point where she could say, “Hm, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all.” And there were certain kinds of behavior and language that opened things up for her w/out triggering the rage and terror.
This year’s amazing and important breakthrough: She has decided that thunderstorms aren’t so terrifying after all. In the past, whenever a thunderstorm came through, her mortification at the noise and light and electical outages brought the entire household to a standstill. We have always treated her fear of thunderstorms as real, though over the last year or so, rather than pulling out all stops to comfort her, we bumped things up a bit and tried making storms fun–lots of reading, singing, playing around her, close physical comfort (one or both of my other kids, and sometimes me, will go in and lie down around her). The result: She has chosen to display a guarded acceptance of, and at times a light amusement at, storms. Yay!
So if I were trying to present your meaningful point mentioned above to a community likely to respond with defensiveness and fear, I’d try to find a way to do it that gave them reason to let that very real defensiveness and fear go in light of language that otherwise opens up options for them, their choice. It has taken my daughter years to identify different ways to react to t-storms and then start choosing from them. Sometimes that’s how long it takes, whether brain injury or soul injury.
Unfortunately, I’m running out of time for responding to comments on this thread. I’ll address a few more and then out of necessity I must withdraw from the chat. I’ve been very happy with this discussion and encourage those commenters carrying on conversations with each other to continue. Hopefully, I’ll see you all again on other threads.
Oh, no, its great. Would that all the people were Proffitts.
In fact, we thank God for said Proffitts…
PK, #86 was one of the most profound comments I have read in the Bloggernacle. It has given me a lot to consider about my own children – none of whom share your daughter’s exact issues, but all of whom have their own insecurities, fears and concerns.
Ray, I still yell at my other two kids sometimes when it all gets to be too much (and my husband says they still deserve it), but overall, the process I describe in engaging my disabled daughter works for my two ambulatory monkeys. We’ll see how it all works out, I guess. Still thinking about all this stuff.
#86 Patricia, I too have only a moment to dip back into T&S this weekend. But I wanted to say I very, very much appreciated your comments. My daughter has a form of high functioning Asperger’s, and learning to adapt to her needs and fears has been a process comparable in some ways to what you describe with your own child. And she has responded well to this. People often don’t realise she has an autistic spectrum disorder, but getting to that point has taken a lot of work and patience and specialist assistance.
I agree completely that the language needed to persuade people of behaviour changes on issues where there is anger and defensiveness requires sensitivity, and not just blunt challenge. It also requires constant attention to one’s own behaviour. I think that in the LDS case there are reasons why the LDS belief system itself logically requires much more attention to the environment. (Ardis Parshall’s points have been well put, but I think there is much more to be said on them.) To explain why this is so requires humility, frank admission of where one is oneself at with regard to these issues, and evidence that one is attuned to LDS beliefs in a genuine way. This is an essay I’ve been considering working on and is one of the reasons – to be honest – that I started becoming involved in discussions on T&S, in addition to a philosophical interest in Joseph Smith’s cosmology. I’ve since then been quite enjoying the site’s discussions for their own sake.
Very much enjoyed your post. I’m going to read New Genesis and a few other things before I feel I could address the LDS/environmental issue in a fairer and more understanding way.
#91: Kyle, I want very much for you to write, and for me to read,your essay. But you may first wish to review Daniel in the Fiery Den, (It’s in the Bible). Many Mormons welcome and search for “‘second opinions” on Their thinking, others are not. Many are opening up to rethinking the 19th Century Cosmology of Joseph Smith, others are not.
“I agree completely that the language needed to persuade people of behaviour changes on issues where there is anger and defensiveness requires sensitivity, and not just blunt challenge.” Is this the same as Joseph Smith’s: “Reproving at times with sharpness……………..”?
#28 & 61, greenfrog, Thanks for hopping by. By now, you’ve probably seen my subsequent comments and more of my thinking regarding language/authority/agency/relation. Letâ€™s see where we are.
I understand some of your comments on this thread to suggest that you find â€œshouldsâ€ and â€œoughtsâ€ particularly ineffective, though Iâ€™m not sure I understand fully why you feel that is so. Perhaps Iâ€™ve misunderstood you.
You’ve only misunderstood a little. I don’t find “shoulds” and “oughts” ineffective, given where humankind is. I find laying out only â€œshould notsâ€ and â€œought notsâ€ to be ineffective and in some cases not terribly meaningful. In legal circles, where interpretation and evaluation apply a relevant authoritative statement to a particular case or class of situations, I think “shoulds” and “oughts” make good stopping places and, sometimes, good starting places in determinations of what’s acceptable and necessary. That is, interpreting and applying established authoritative “shoulds” or “oughts” is effective in many cases. As almost always happens, a case comes along that demonstrates that the prescribed limits are too narrow or not narrow enough. New debate ensues, new authoritative statements are constructed; the exception helps firm up the new rule and society (if everyone is being reasonable) progresses. I like this process; at its best, itâ€™s useful and elegant.
So, I do find â€œshouldsâ€ and â€œoughtsâ€ in authoritative language effective in some situations (â€œKids, you shouldnâ€™t play with matches!â€). But! I think other kinds of language and relation are more meaningful in other situations, especially where â€œshouldsâ€ and â€œoughtsâ€ might trigger an individualâ€™s fear, anger, etc. â€œMeaningfulâ€ language is different from â€œeffectiveâ€ language. I think that where language triggers peopleâ€™s fear, apathy, or anger, etc. it runs the risk of becoming ineffective, unless, of course, triggering those feelings was its goal in the first place. Effective language is meaningful, but if language striving to be effective fails to accomplish its ends, what is it? Itâ€™s not effective language, but itâ€™s still meaningful language. We could say itâ€™s just not one of the most meaningful kinds of language.
This is where my thinking is right now. Rather than laying out a personâ€™s options in terms of what that person shouldnâ€™t doâ€”in â€œShall notsâ€â€”more meaningful language does its best to generate options–could dos”–and, without dictating which one the other involved ought to choose, exercises faith that the other will choose the best he or she is able to at that time under those circumstances. Sometimes the other will even be able to multiply the choices, once he or she sees that it can be done. This requires that the person laying out the options be able to live with the results if the other chooses a less desirable option than what the initiator had hoped forâ€”that he or she be able to exercise faith that, presented with the best options for the circumstances at that time, people will learn what they need to learn. Maybe not next year, maybe not in a generationâ€”but they will learn.
This discussion could shoot off in all kinds of directions right now, but letâ€™s go back to your words.
In the context of authority (which I recognize you may or may not believe to be correct or useful for this discussion), as I understand your thoughts on this thread, they suggest that you prefer language and thought patterns that might appeal to the authority, rather than language and thought patterns that might appeal to those trying to figure out what the authority would do in a given situation.
I suppose the language Iâ€™m attempting to use and the thought patterns Iâ€™m trying to describe imbue the other with authority, allowing him or her to choose from and even generate more options, the best he or she can muster under the conditions. In my daughterâ€™s case, I attempted to spark her agency, the ability to make choices, even when others declared her â€œseverely retarded,â€ incompetent or, in the case of the church, not accountable.
If thatâ€™s correct, it seems to me that there are, even within your preferred approach, several rhetorical alternatives: the articulation of oneâ€™s own contextually specific values [yes]â€”whether osprey or daughter; the elaboration of a basic and commonly held value that, when elaborated illuminates ways that our actions donâ€™t match our values [maybe, although in many people this might trigger the aforementioned resistance] â€¦; a third alternative â€¦ might be simply the articulation of the factsâ€”field notes, as it were [yes!]. The latter approach provides others with the same data set and relies on the strength of those facts in the context of commonly held values to lead to conduct that might not otherwise occur in ignorance of those facts.
In this the first approach, I might lay out my specific values and allow others to make something of them, but I wouldnâ€™t try to control what they did make unless they went too far afield in the meaning they ascribed to my words or if someone I have stewardship over does something dangerous or destructive. Some misinterpretation is inevitable; it takes years to learn a personâ€™s language, years to communicate with that person with increasing levels of understanding. In some cases, discussion helps clear up murky spots (hopefully as itâ€™s doing here); in others, itâ€™s counterproductive.
In the middle approach, having it pointed out that oneâ€™s behavior doesnâ€™t match oneâ€™s values will work best with a certain kind of personâ€”like you. I can even look at myself sometimes, and say, â€œYou actually believe in such in such, but youâ€™re not acting like you do.â€ For others, it provokes reflexive self-defensiveness because thatâ€™s what theyâ€™ve got to work with.
But having lived with circumstances many have had no experience with and canâ€™t think meaningfully about, Iâ€™ve learned how burdensome it is for someone who doesnâ€™t know what theyâ€™re saying to point out (passionately and incessantly) that youâ€™re not living up to your standards. Or rather, their beliefs about your standards. Plenty of people live with circumstances I donâ€™t understand and canâ€™t speak meaningfully to. I consider my trying to point out that theyâ€™re failing to meet social or religious expectations I might assume them to espouse moral trespassing and try to avoid doing it.
In the latter approach you mention, I donâ€™t think of what happens between text I generate, like those field notes, and its readers as necessarily or hopefully leading to conduct that might not otherwise occur in ignorance of those facts, though thatâ€™s always a possibility. I put stuff like that out there for those whose imaginations it will spark to play with, make something of, provoke them into language, etc. Writing like that functions something like Noahâ€™s birds. BTW, thanks again for that wonderful assortment of olive leaves.
Itâ€™s taken me two days to compose this reply, but thatâ€™s been a good thing. Since I tend to write like a hawk flies, in slow circles spinning in a certain direction, weâ€™ll be able to return to this topic on other threads if youâ€™re still interested.
Heh. greenfrog. Doesn’t your skin dry out when you spend so much time over here away from your pond?
Yes, Kyle R; I’ll look forward to reading what you write, too. Let us know how it’s going and where your writing ends up!
Very nice meeting you.
Bob, “reproving at times with sharpness” often is couched in terms of “preciseness” and “focus” rather than “blunt challenge” (much like operating with a sharp surgical instrument rather than a butter knife) – and it is followed immediately by “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”. That puts a *very* limited application to “sharpness” and says, in essence, that meekness and patience and long-suffering are to be the general rule.
I agree that our doctrinal and historical traditions allow for sharpness and upbraiding, but they also restrict that type of language primarily to correction of the Spirit – immediately followed by an increase of love. If there is a generic form of Mormon communication that covers a call to repentance, I would submit it is communication that is focused strictly on the issue, prompted by the Holy Ghost (a stricter standard than even righteous indignation) and then immediately dropped in favor of a loving verbal embrace.
PK, I guess this is my take on communal calls to action in the Church. Since individual members are at different points in their environmental awareness and activity and living in countries where the environmental issues are *so* diverse, it is somewhat hard for church leaders to offer “sharp” (meaning focused and precise) calls to repentance to the membership in general. I know even on the ward and stake level, that would be difficult to see happening – much less at the global level. About all they can do in areas that are not integral to their main mission, IMO, is set a good example, teach correct principles and let the members govern themselves – much like Ardis said in #39.
Ray, My guess: Different approaches reach different people. Guilting doesn’t work on me, but maybe it does on some. I just worry about those already suffering from other sadness, dismay, and other overwhelming pressure being caught in the widely thrown net guilt casts. But overall, the more people doing what they think will give people reason to see better ways, the better all around.
#95,96: Ray, Patricia, I hope I am not pushing too hard on this. It is my nature and training to begin a discussion with “I disagree”, then move and compromise to find common ground from there. PJ, you know I am a Nature softy, you know I love Wallece Stegner. Read his ‘bluntness’ on Environmentalism. I am also an old school BY man: (This doesn’t mean I think I am BY!)
“I can’t undertake to explain Brigham Young to your Atlantic citizens, or expect you to put him at his value. Your great men Eastward are to me like your ivory and pearl handled table knives, balance[d] handles, more shiny than the inside of my watch case; but, with only edge enough to slice bread and cheese or help spoon victuals, and all alike by the dozen one with another. Brigham is the article that sells out West with us – between a Roman cutlass and a beef butcher knife, the thing to cut up a deer or cut down an enemy, and that will save your life or carve your dinner every bit as well, though the handpice is buck horn and the case a hogskin hanging in the breech of your pantloons. You, that judge men by the handle and the sheath, how can I make you know a good Blade?”
97: Good! I beat the Closing of the Post!
You’re not pushing too hard, Bob. I’m just slowing up on this post because I’m out of time. Today I have to make vegetable soup to use up some of this summer’s crop, make my visiting teaching supervisorial calls, take care of usual household business, and solve problems I expect and some I don’t expect.
I don’t know how hardcore bloggers do it, where they find the time. They must hire people to post under their names.
I should spend more time in my own pond, but I’ve felt afflicted by shoulds and oughts recently, and I decline to embody such afflictions in writing. I suppose it’s a variant of wanting to hang out in someone else’s room when mine’s a mess.
Well, gf, if you were a snake instead of a frog you might be able to shed some shoulds and oughts and still be thought a very fine snake ;)
But I understand how the should-ought dynamic works. It gets ahold of your name and keeps calling it.
Whatever your reasons, I’m always happy to see you arrive here.
#99: Greenfrog writes my stuff.
#92 Possibly Bob, I’ve been reading quite a bit of Bro Joe and his way of thinking may be rubbing off on me a bit. I’ll certainly seek your “second opinion” to any, er, “second opinions” I come up with.
#94 Will do and ditto.