Mutual Questions

Before there were Young Men and Young Women, there were the Young Men’s and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Associations. Before there were correlated lesson manuals and basketball and scouting and Young Womanhood awards and dancing-a-Book-of-Mormon’s-width-apart there were homemade programs.

MIA meetings consisted of songs and prayers, recitation of memorized scripture, and short lectures on every imaginable subject. Many MIAs of the 19th century produced “newspapers,” handwritten, single-copy publications with contributions by members on both serious and comic topics, read at weekly meetings.

And there were Questions and Answers.

The MIA secretary of the United Order community of Kingston, Utah, carefully recorded the answers provided by members to questions assigned a week earlier. Some of my favorites, from 1879-1881:

Q. What is the Exclamation point used for?
A. It is used in Reading after a sentence expressing Joy, Greif, Supprise &c

Q. Who was the first chief [justice] of Utah.?
A. Judge Brochas an unmittagated Rascal.

Q. Which is the Longest Chpt in the Bible?
A. Psalms CXIX containing 176 v[e]rses.

Q. Where is [a] girl mentioned in the Bible?
A. In the 3rd Chapt of Joel 3rd vrs.

Q. What is the population of Kingston?
A. There is 119 Souls & seven Transients.

Q. What is known by the middle or dark Ages & what period of time does it comprise?
A. The middle ages embrace the time intervening between the extinction of ancient literature & the appearance of modern literature. During this period Europe was sunk in ignorance & barbarism hence it is often styled the dark ages This period comprises a bout a thousand years from the fifth century to the fifteenth century or from the subversion of the western empire of the Romans to that of the eastern Empire

Q. In what year will the last of the Gentile Nations be destroyed?
A. 1891.

Q. What is the dista[n]ce to the Sun?
A.. If some celestial Railway could be imagined. If a train ran night & day it would require 175 years to reach the Sun. Sensation could not travel fast enough If an infant [had] an arm long enough to touch the sun he would die of old age before he would feel the burn for sensation is communicated only about 100 ft per second or 1637 miles a day and would need more than one hundred & fifty years to make the Journey. Sound would reach it in 14 years could it be transmitted through celestial space & a cannon ball in 9 years if it mooved uniformly at the rate it left the muzzle of the gun. The earth traveles 19 miles per second or 50 times farther than a rifle ball Yet if it were to moove in a straight line to the sun it would take a little less than 50 days to make the 96 million of miles.

Q. What was it that cause the savior to weep as he looked upon the situation of his people?
A. It was the scattered condition of his people. Mat[t]hew 23rd Chap 37 verse.

Q. When was the America[n] constitution adopted & signed by the convention?
A. July 4th 1876. [sic]

Q. Which is the most beautiful country in the world?
A. Greece.

Q. Why should we love and obey our parrents?
A. Because it’s a commandment of God and because they were the means of bringing me into this world they nursed and fed me when I was a little babe and now continually love me and provided food and clothing and lodging for me, they watched over me in sickness, direct me in health and teach me to be clean neat industerous and orderly, so that when I have grown up I may become useful.

Q. Was Joseph Smith ever condem[n]ed by the Law of the lan[d]?
A. Never although there were about fifty law suits instituted against him.

Q. Why should flesh be eaten by man in winter and in times of famine and not at others times?
A. Flesh is heating to the human System therefore it is not good to eat flesh in summer but God allowing his people to eat it [in] winter sparingly and in times of famine because all animals suffer death naturally of [if] they do not by the hand of man.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

25 comments for “Mutual Questions

  1. We have come a long way, but at least one question, that about the “middle or dark ages,” would get the same answer today that it received then. Our communal understanding of history remains woefully, though unconsciously, anti-Catholic.

  2. Jim F., you get the first point for pointing that out. There is at least one other point available for identifying one other answer as being wrong beyond any debate (and I don’t mean “1876” being miswritten for “1776”). I read an old Meridian essay by Davis Bitton the other day where he addressed the “dark ages” fallacy.

  3. Thanks for sharing! That was very entertaining. I can almost picture some of these kids; their personalities come through a lot. (The question about the sun, I’m guessing, was answered by a boy, and the other kids were rolling their eyes and saying, let’s get on with it already! as he continued to spin out his answer for as long as he could get girls to look at him.) My current calling is in the stake YW, and if you passed out a similar set of questions today, you’d get answers just about as varied and amusing.

  4. I took some courses in medieval history from Paul Pixton at BYU and he was doing his best to disabuse us of the traditional LDS view of the “dark ages.” His long-standing frustration with the entire thing was palpable.

  5. I think it’s beyond any debate that the last of the gentile nations was not destroyed in 1891.

  6. Q. In what year will the last of the Gentile Nations be destroyed?
    A. 1891.

    Interesting to see how the anticipation of the destruction of unbelievers — a rather widespread idea that Mormonism has espoused — has survived nearly 120 years of wear and tear.

  7. I don’t know whether Joseph Smith was ever “condemned by the Law of the land,” but he was found guilty in court a very few times through his life, though I don’t know of any sentencing ever put against him.

    Also, the Declaration of Independence is the document associated with July 4, 1776, not the Constitution. The Constitution was signed by convention in 1787 and ratification finished in 1788.

  8. How fun. (I still think of Young Men’s and Young Women’s as “MIA.”) I love the definitive answer that of course Greece is the most beautiful country in the world. And the established belief in the so-called 85-year prophecy for the end of the world is interesting; in my day youth would have answered the year 2000. And the “unmittigated rascal” editorial is a hoot.

  9. Patricia, are you sure about that? I’m trying to come up with an overall impression of everything I’ve ever heard concerning Mormon expectation for unbelievers, and the answer I get is a lot closer to “chagrin” than it is to “destruction.”

  10. NCN-Tom, the confusion between the Constitution and Declaration is the one that wins the other brownie point. There apparently was little discussion of answers given!

    You can tell what a small community Kingston was — 119 resident souls plus 7 (soulless?) transients — and what few resources were available. I can see the kids poring over the latest issues of the Contributor and Instructor, which probably supplied many of the questions as well as the answers, and the 23 volumes in the MIA library, and the Deseret News, and interviewing the bishop and schoolteacher and whoever else was considered the knowledgeable heads in the community, to come up with these answers. They actually had few resources, yet were determined to make the most of what they had.

    Costanza, Paul Pixton should be proud to know that he got through to you as well as to me — he was *my* first source to correct the dark/middle ages thing, in an introduction to medieval history evening class back in about 1984.

  11. The first thing I noticed (other than the reliance on some funny units of measurement: 175 years by train!) was the soulless transients.

    I also spent a moment contemplating whether someone “knew” which chapter was the longest or if they actually had to sort that out via direct observation in the week they were given to provide an answer. ^_^

    Oh, and the Word of Wisdom one used exactly the same kind of analysis that I’ve seen from recent discussions about coffee, tea, hot cocoa and Coca-Cola.

  12. I’m trying to come up with an overall impression of everything I’ve ever heard concerning Mormon expectation for unbelievers, and the answer I get is a lot closer to “chagrin” than it is to “destruction.”

    I love it. Every knee shall bow and every gentile cheek shall blush furiously.

    I agree that most of us think that the wicked are in for a rough time but that wicked/non-wicked and Mormon/non-Mormon are categories that don’t map cleanly.

  13. Fun stuff. I liked the editorial on the first chief justice of Utah.

    Have I ever told you that I have great admiration for anyone who can do history? My brain doesn’t retain it for anything. This glimpses into the past are something else!

  14. Came late to the party, but I’m hoping for half a brownie for September 17, 1787, the date the Constitutional was signed.

  15. Besides for the anti-Catholic sentiment inherent in the dark ages question, worth pointing out that the times were anything but dark on the south side of the Med (and in al-Andalus on the north) in those years. “Golden Age” would be more appropriate, to say nothing of the role our Muslim Brothers and Sisters of that age played (fed to us by Venetians, Castillians and others) in bringing us the knowledge necessary to spark the Renaissance, Reformation, and eventually Restoration. As westerners and as Mormons, we owe a debt of gratitude to Arabs like Avicenna, Saladin, Averroes, Maimonides (Jewish yes, but Arab too, however incongruous that may seem in the age of Zionism) and many others no less than Martin Luther. Though I don’t think any of them predicted 1891 for the year of the destruction of the gentile nations.

  16. These are great. I love how the personalities come through. My question is, I wonder what kind of questions the youth of today would pose to their leaders? These questions (in hindsight) seem so innocent. Even the asking of “what is the most beautiful country?” (Who today would ask that?) And like Kevin, I’m delighted in the authoritative answer as if it were fact, not opinion!

  17. (sidebar)
    Paul Pixton remains today one of the most influential people on my academic career. He practically threw a rough draft back at me that I had written on Islam with the words, “So? Who cares? What’s the point?” Taught me a powerful lesson about analysis — that while research data (and quotes and anecdotes, etc.) was interesting, it didn’t count unless you could analyze and extrapolate some actual meaning…

  18. “…doing his best to disabuse us of the traditional LDS view of the ‘dark ages.'”

    This isn’t a problem Mormons have in greater numbers than the rest of the population, in my experience. Lots and lots of people outside the church call that period the dark ages, and most have no idea why.

  19. I have done a lot of study on the \”Dark Ages\” and Medieval times. Life was truly dark if you were a normal working person. If you were a royal life was not too bad. The one thing I admire in the faith the average person had during time in question. There was a big difference between England and France at the time with England being much better off. The was a huge shift in quality of life, towards the negative, when William invaded England in 1066. Wave after wave of Plague killing off 30% to 50% of people and live stock was a real bright spot as well. read your history and you will know what it was indeed a \”Dark Age\” and the Vikings to add a little spice to everyday life.
    If you did not know the Plague kill off just about everything except plants, it even killed the fleas that carried it. It took until the 1700\’s for the population to recover from the Plague. On the bright side it did cause the re-awakening of Europe as there was half the number of people and all the money and it started the end of power of royalty.
    If I had to pick a year to live in I would pick 1000 AD in England.

  20. This thread seems to have segued into a discussion of the dark vs. middle ages, so I want to comment that the term “dark ages” as used by, say, Paul Pixton and Davis Bitton (and me — I like their company) carries no sense of judgment about men’s spiritual condition or intellectual achievement or the difficulties of physical survival. “Dark ages” refers to a relatively brief period that is “dark” to us because of our lack of knowledge of those years. Just as “middle ages” reflects our perspective on the millenium or so falling between the classical and modern ages, the “dark ages” are entirely about us and our (limited and ignorant) point of view.

    “Dark ages” is not synonymous with “middle ages.”

  21. The 1891 date fits perfectly with Dan Erickson’s _”As a Thief in the Night”: The Mormon Quest for Millennial Deliverance_ which traced Mormonism’s millennial beliefs and argued that the Manifesto and other major changes in the church occurred when it became apparent that the end of the world was not near. How important is millennialism in the Church today? Would you agree that most Mormons believe that the Second Coming will occur within the next two decades?

  22. Alan, my best guess is that millennialism is not all that important for most Mormons, but that it is very important for some. For most millennialism enthusiasts, anticipating the Second Coming during the next two decades would probably seem rushed, but I’m sure there are exceptions.

  23. My brother lives in Fruit Heights, Utah, and he told me that recently his 11-year-old son’s Primary teaches taught their class that Christ would return in 2012 because of the end of the Mayan Calendar. I don’t know if they suggested that the Mayans were the peoples of the Book of Mormon and that is why it’s truth. In this same ward, a well respected individual “testified” that the baby blessed that day would be present at Christ’s return. My reaction? These predictions are as old as the Church. I recall the excitement during the 1990s with the coming of the new millenium. I am relieved to read Jonathan’s feeling that “millennialism is not all that important for most Mormons.” I would have thought it was more prevelent.

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