Devotion is properly understood as a non-exclusive species of love. One can simultaneously be a devoted spouse, a devoted parent, and a devoted Lakers fan without one type of devotion interfering with the others.

Overlooking devotion as a factor quickly leads to fundamentally misunderstanding a situation. If a devoted husband scorns a brothel’s gaudy advertisements each day on his way home from work, this does not represent the brothel’s failure to appropriately price its services or to offer a compelling advertising narrative. An analysis of marketing strategies and competitive advantages would fundamentally misread the husband’s imperviousness to the brothel’s enticements because it ignores the most important factor.

The same is true of religious experience. If you ignore devotion, you can’t understand what church members are doing or why, no matter how many power structures you lay bare. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do quite a few odd things, from wearing ties at church to avoiding coffee to paying tithing to attending meetings to teaching youth classes to loading moving trucks to visiting strangers. Often these activities are not obviously or inherently pleasurable, and if you try to explain why people do them without recourse to devotion, you have to resort to increasingly extreme alternatives. The explanations are not only insulting and condescending – the usual theories include brainwashing, mindless following, blind obedience, and enforced conformity – but also incorrect. Do not ascribe to fear or compulsion what can be best explained by love. The unvarnished truth is that my bishop is an authentically good guy, and the church members in my area are generally fine folks, and if I can make myself useful in some way, I will. And even if they weren’t, I’m devoted to enough other aspects of the church to get me there on time on Sunday.

You might ask: Shouldn’t we just love Jesus? Perhaps. But I don’t think the contradiction implied by the question actually exists. Loving God is not the same as loving your neighbor, but that does not mean that the two are at odds with each other. In the same way, loving God can easily run in parallel with devotion to the gospel and the scriptures and the prophet and your ward. Devotion as a type of love remains useful precisely because it is so accommodating of multiple objects, even if it does not aim quite as high as loving the Savior. You can be equally devoted to your business and to your calling as a Sunday School teacher; whether you have succeeded in loving God and not Mammon is another question, to be worked out in fear and trembling.

For a one-axis analysis of church members, the single most important characteristic is devotion. When it comes to classifying church members, orthodoxy is an awkward fit. If you try to categorize members by their orthodoxy, you rapidly get lost trying to figure out what is doctrine and what beliefs are compatible with it. Orthopraxy is not only an ugly neologism, but also of little more use than orthodoxy as an analytical category, particularly in a church that only admits sinners. I still rather like orthoglossy as a concept, but it can’t distinguish between sincere belief and hypocrisy. And even the perfectly orthodox can do and say awful things, or be useless pests in general.

Devotion, though, tells me something useful. Are you willing to teach a primary class? Substitute for a sick teacher on short notice? Bring a 24-ounce container of sour cream to a potluck? As long as you can manage that without causing a fuss, I’m not particularly concerned what your view of Book of Mormon historicity is. If you love the church, we can probably hold a reasonable discussion about historicity sometime. If you loathe the church and its leaders and the local members, though, I probably won’t invite you over, even if your views on scripture are identical to mine. Am I orthodox? I don’t know. Maybe I am, but I’m not sure how to define it, or how useful a definitive answer would be. I am, however, quite happy to be identified as devout.

22 comments for “Devotion

  1. Thank you for this. The word Devotion has never really been part of my religious language. I think it’s time I add it.

  2. “I’m not particularly concerned what your view of Book of Mormon historicity is”

    I gather that more and more, the membership is moving in this direction. Not that they don’t view the BOM as historical, but they just assume it is without making the question one of great priority. People mainly care about orthopraxy more than orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, after all, is often abstract and difficult to understand. Orthopraxy is simple. It comes down to observing a pattern of living (avoiding proscribed substances, fulfilling your calling, paying tithing, praying regularly, helping out when people ask, and maybe trying to serve in areas where you aren’t asked but feel you might help someone in need). The orthopraxy in the mind of most members seems to be the essence of religiosity. The beliefs are mostly focused on orthopraxy. What should I be doing, what shouldn’t I be doing? The question of what is and isn’t real or what is or isn’t correct is secondary. And these questions don’t usually go far beyond, did I have a strong feeling about something, is God looking out for me. Of course, if someone comes around trying to challenge church teachings on what is real or what is correct doctrine, members do and will react. But they mostly don’t know how (very few are trained in philosophy and theology nor are they capable of coherently defending x historicity claim or doctrinal claim) and tend to try to bracket the issue, not to convince the doubter but to rid themselves of any cognitive dissonance they may feel, and then once they feel they have dispelled the issue and the person pushing it, they go right back to a pattern of orthopraxic living.

  3. Nate. I agree the orthopraxy/orthodoxy issue is one we’ve gotten trapped in. As someone who is not orthodox at all though, I see the entire home-centered Come Follow Me program and all the related off-shoots as trying to retrain members. I’m happy to argue that it doesn’t do so particularly well, but it does seem the Brethern are aware of the problem and are trying to move the church toward Devotion rather than orthopraxy.

  4. “very few are trained in philosophy and theology…”

    That is wonderful! I hope it is always so among us. One need not be trained in philosophy and theology to understand the things of God. Indeed, sometimes I think that such training may interfere with real, meaningful, and mature understanding of the things of God.

  5. ReTx, sorry if my comment wasn’t too clear. I mean orthopraxy (i.e., devotion) tends to actually be the main focus of the members. The OP is right not only in that devotion is and should be a higher path, but actually is what most members are concerned about. Of course, devotion is not easily accomplished, and we all fall short. But it is still a main focus.

  6. Perhaps Jonathan can clarify, but, in the OP, he seems to be differentiating between devotion and orthopraxy. I kind of see the distinction he is trying to make, I admit that it is a little bit fuzzy in my head so that I have no hope of explaining what the distinction is. He seems to be saying the merely obeying all the right commandments (and judging others who don’t obey the same commandments you do) is just as problematic as orthodoxy — believing all the right things and judging those who don’t believe exactly the same things you believe. Devotion to me seems to be more about commitment and loyalty to God, Christ, and His Church — something that is not fully reflected in either orthodoxy or orthopraxy — at least as I read the OP.

  7. Nate – I agree with you. I think the brethren realize this and are nudging for change.

    As I’ve continued to think about this today, the idea of what *I* am Devoted to has bothered me. Is it the organizational church? Is it practices? Is it the people? Is it the ideology? Is it Hope for better than we’ve got? Is it God himself? And yet, how do I separate out one of these entirely from the other?

    The item I’m least devoted to is the organizational church. After that the ideology.

  8. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy (ugh, what an ugly word) both seem like good things, at least in theory. I’m just not sure how useful they are as analytical categories in a lot of contexts. If I need to find a new youth Sunday School teacher, some of the key features (shows up dependably every week, finds church service rewarding, likes the kids in the class and their families, won’t teach lessons that create headaches for the Sunday School president) are not things that orthodoxy or orthopraxy adequately describe. I think in many contexts, devotion is more useful.

    To explain the difference, I keep coming back to the example of a devoted husband or a devoted wife. What would it mean for one spouse to be “orthodox” toward the other? To say, “I believe all the right and true things about my wife”? That sounds weird, and I’d suspect that relationship was in deep trouble. Doing all the right and true things with respect to one’s spouse sounds better, but that might mean just doing just the minimum, or doing so for the wrong reasons. A devoted spouse might not get every detail right, but as long as their hearts are in the right place, a couple can usually make things work. It may not be a technical offense to “spousal orthodoxy” or “spousal orthopraxy” for someone to explain to friends or colleagues how their spouse is a doofus and a hopeless klutz, but it is a shocking breach of devotion.

    Devotion won’t accomplish the same thing as a sanctifying love of God, but I think of the two as complementary. A desert ascetic can practice sanctifying love, but I think devotion is required for a community to work.

    ReTx, I removed the duplicates as requested.

  9. “If I need to find a new Youth Sunday School teacher…” As a member of the Sunday School presidency/bishopric then you should just pray for inspiration. Qualities of the teacher should be beside the point. You should pray and get divine inspiration and that is it.

  10. Jonathan, I basically agree with your post and give it praise and you respond by throwing a fit about semantics? No wonder no one reads this moribund blog. It used to be so much more, then most the permas left it (or at least haven’t posted in years) and readers have gone onto other blogs.

  11. Nate, I may be mistaken, but I didn’t understand Jonathan to be making a substantive objection to your comment. He was just remarking that “orthopraxy” is an aesthetically unpleasing term. Which is true, isn’t it? No need to take offense.

    ET, I believe that Oliver Cowdery once labored under a notion of inspiration similar to yours. See D & C 9:7-10.

  12. I didn’t take any offense to the comment. The point is that the posts seem to have lost substance from what they once were. Quibbles about semantics suggest a reluctance to address larger issues at stake. And because of this reluctance, I gather that readers are just plain losing interest. I think I am too. I find other blogs just more interesting.

  13. The claim, as I understood it, Nate, is that there are subtle but important differences between “devotion” and, on one side, orthodox belief and, on the other side, conformity to prescribed standard conduct (or “orthopraxy”?). That seems like a contestable but significant claim– one of “substance”– and not a matter mere semantic quibbling.

  14. SDS, Jonathan said that he didn’t intend any disagreement and that he was talking about semantics. You’re saying that there was a substantial agreement that was more than just semantics.

    My original point was that members already tend to focus more on what one should be doing (which is what is meant by orthopraxy) than what one should believe (which is what is meant by orthodoxy). Devotion simply seems to mean a focus on doing more than having the correct beliefs. Neither Jonathan nor the average member is inquiring other members to see if they have exactly the correct beliefs on Book of Mormon historicity, for instance. It is just assumed by regular members that if you are a member you accept the fundamental truth claims as true. So in that sense I agree with the OP.

    But I feel like my comment has been met with a sort of defensive obtuseness that is focused mostly on seemingly trivial semantics (your comment as well). It is almost as if even though Clark Goble has passed (may he rest in peace), his spirit lives on in this blog. Whatever comment you make is met with hairsplitting and qualifications, even to the extent of going down rabbit holes and tangents and in philosophical issues so entangled that the average reader and commenter doesn’t really know what is going on.

  15. Nate GT, I am delighted to hear that you have found other blogs that are more interesting to you, and I encourage you and everyone who is dissatisfied to spend more time engaging with the things that they enjoy. Disparaging comments about Clark are not welcome here.

  16. Nate, I think the only person being defensively obtuse is you. And if the best you can do is to disparage someone who is now dead but was always a model of constructive online engagement with everyone who commented then please, move along quickly.

  17. Please, the deceased are not immune from having their rhetorical styles critiqued. My remarks about Clark were not out of order in the least and to say that they were is an overreaction (and a cheap attempt at oneupsmanship at that). In praise of Clark, he always took the time to engage topics and the more liberal-leaning commenters with whom he tended to disagree. He would regularly go on liberal believing blogs such as Wheat and Tares to respectfully engage those with whom he disagreed. Jonathan Green, on the other hand, is no Clark Goble. He has a long history of flying off the handle if someone disagrees with him. He has no stomach for engaging liberal-leaning believers (I can only imagine Jonathan engaging in conversation at Wheat and Tares would leave him in a hyperventilative stupor). In another thread on tithing where I suggested that tithing settlement acted as a pressure system for some members to pay, and provided some anecdotal evidence from other stories online to make my point, instead of acknowledging those, he called me a liar. That’s just the kind of person he is.

    Jonathan, I have strong reason to believe that you have led this blog, which was once a fairly decent vibrant and interactive one, to its demise. I’m pretty sure that your off-putting personality and habit of making knee-jerk, reactionary posts, comments, and jabs that you can’t adequately defend have driven bloggers from wanting to associate with you. Clark Goble at least gave this blog some restorative hope. With just you at the helm, I have little hope. The tides of opinion are shifting in the bloggernacle. They appear to be quite unfavorable to you, your prickly personality type, and this blog.

  18. Anyone who shows up and helps and serves at church who denies the Book of Mormon is what it says it is misses out on an endowment of spiritual power. They are missing miracles and revelation that would surely bless their lives.

    You can’t deny the words of the prophets or construct sophisticated arguments that try to explain how they are all biased and wrong while you’ve determined they are wrong through your limited understanding of various surviving evidences.

    At best, you should say you hope it’s true, accurate, and historical, but you’re not certain as you’ve not received a testimony of that reality yet.

    But when you deny the light that others have received and that God is willing to send you, you can not increase in the powers of godliness.

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