Thursday, May 13, 2010

conditioned to love the monster god

[now posted over at The Exponent also]
Here is a half-baked thought that has been marinating in the back of my head for a while:

Sermons and lessons in the LDS church have elements in them that condition us to accept a Monster God.

(Probably not LDS alone, but that is the majority of my church going experience so it is where I have seen it the most.)

What I am thinking of here is the numerous talks, lessons, etc that use as their object lessons examples of extreme human suffering to teach about God. Two in particular stand out in memory (and I'm too tired to hunt down more):

1)From elder Monson's conference talk from last year (ironically entitled "Be Of Good Cheer") in which he talked about the German Mother in war-torn Prussia and how she had to bury her children one by one, having only a spoon to dig their graves with, until the very last child died, and at that point, she had even lost her spoon and so used her bare fingers against frozen ground to bury her baby.

2) From a local Stake Conference a few years back; the Stake President, as part of his talk described in great detail, how at a family cookout, the young toddler pulled the charcoal grill full of red-hot briquettes over on top of himself. The Stake President went on in great detail about the extent of the irreparable damage done to the toddler's body. I don't remember exactly what the SP's point was (probably prayer, or faith, or something) because I had to leave the meeting (leave my toddler sitting in the pew with his father) so I could go throw up.

I'm thinking that these gospel teaching elements are included as a coping mechanism, a way to preemptively curtail questions about the atrocities that occur and how an All powerful All loving God fits into this world of carnage. Perhaps, they are included to be intentionally numbing? (activism is frequently downplayed to make place for faith/acceptance.)

We are taught to Pray to the Monster God for protection (for he is mighty to save) while simultaneously being taught to accept that, at His humanly incomprehensible whim, He may chose not to save you. In spite of unwavering devotion, you and your loved ones may in die in a multitude of agonizing ways. Or live in a multitude of agonizing ways. And lesson after lesson in church is constructed to condition you to that fact.
So pray for patience.
For faith.
For understanding.
Or at least for acceptance.

It is storytelling.
Turning tragedy into faith promoting stories.

My own thought is that reality isn't very faith-promoting.

As an interesting segue: after the Earthquakes in Haiti earlier this year, JohnR wrote this post about suffering, and storytelling, and how we can cope with tragedy without trying to piece an all Powerful all Loving God into the story.

To end with, a little sacrilege.
Have you seen the painting "One Nation Under God" by Jon McNaughton?
In thinking about The Monster God, it occurred to me that the anonymous artist who did this parody of it might have been on to something.


Leah Elliott Hauge said...

I had an Institute teacher who loved to tell gruesome stories, for no constructive reason that I could discern, just keeping us informed of all the atrocities in the world, I guess, and aren't we lucky to have such a loving God looking out for us? I enrolled in Institute hoping to be uplifted, and instead almost always left that class feeling sickened and depressed.

Oh, and the parody picture is brilliant!

Holly said...

I really like your suggestion that these complete obscene stories are told to be "intentionally numbing." They're rarely warnings, of what can happen if human beings exercise too much hubris--those stories always involve other people, the ones who do things like support civil rights for women or gay people. Instead, they're just about... obscenity? Suffering? Suffering so obscene and pointless you can't recognize it for what it is? What you should screen out so that you have enough energy to convince yourself that that monster you're worshipping isn't really a monster?

adamf said...

Interesting - I had not thought of the intention behind some of these graphic stories. They always draw me in (whether from GenCon or just a news article) but other than providing an enhanced awareness for the tragedy that occurs in the world, I didn't give it much thought, e.g. using it to teach us to love "the monster God." Numbing can be a result, although I don't think that is the intention. I don't like the idea of curtailing questions either, but I had not thought of that before... I'm all for coping mechanisms though! :)

xJane said...

I definitely feel that my devotion to Cthulhu is fueled, in part at least, by memory of the Monster God of Catholicism—at least Cthulhu is honest about the fact that the reward for worshipping Him is painful destruction.

G said...

adamf, for me there's a pretty large difference between church talks and news stories when it comes to relaying information about tragedies in the world.

Something about directly tying in the tragedy to learning some concept about the nature of our relationship to god...

(though I do appreciate that general authorities refrain from explicitly giving God credit for certain recent natural disasters. Unlike certain leaders of other denominations.)

I'll have to parse that one out a bit in my mind first before I can explain it better.

xjane~ exactly. something about removing the soft-focus false front is very refreshing.
(This IS the God who has a history of destroying his people by flood, fire, famine, disease, warfare, etc.)

angryyoungwoman said...

God, that first story is just too much. In the end, she no longer had a spoon, and so had to dig her child's grave with her bare hands. Oy. What the hell are you supposed to learn from that? That god is cruel? When I left mormonism I had the choice of hating god or becoming an atheist. I think I took the better path.

Kelly Ann said...

G, I like (as much as one can like) the phrase "Monster God." I have been thinking a lot about your post which came up in my google reader more or less along side the following link to a new Mormon messages video (see link below).

Don't get me wrong, I'm absolutely moved my Stephanie Nielson's story and her ability to find faith in a horrific painful circumstance. However, I don't like the churches promotion of it - the turning tragedy into faith (not to mention gender roles). I'm not sure what I'm suppose to take from the story. And I can't really express why I'm so bothered but really see it as another portrayal of a monster god (who would leave a person looking like a monster almost).

It's odd that as I claim to have found more faith - I look at Stephanie's story and say wow that was a horrific accident, but I look at her survival as a product of science not of God.

While I still haven't collected all my thoughts, thanks for making me think. I can't believe in a monster god.

I do believe in God but I'm still trying to figure out what that means.

Craig said...

The god of the Abrahamic religions, like the Greek and Roman gods, like all gods, is capricious, cruel, unpredictable, and hypocritical. He's the epitome of petulant egocentrism. He's a bratty, amoral undisciplined child who has no limits or rules.

In fact, he's worse:
He'll murder you for picking up sticks on Saturday, if raped, sell you to your rapist if he's feeling generous or have you murdered if he's not, commit the genocide of people who refuse to believe in him, allows women and children who do believe in him to be burnt to death, make you gay and then not allow you to fulfil your basic human needs, make you a woman and then make sure you're treated shit. He's purported to be guilty of more crimes against humanity than every nasty human who has ever lived, combined. But don't worry, he loves us.

He's the worst aspects of humanity all rolled into one.
Yeah, he's a monster all right. The monster under the bed, and for some reason, we can't get rid of (our belief in) him.

We don't want to believe that life just isn't fair, that there's no overall purpose to existence, and that everyone is responsible for themselves, so we invent an imaginary abusive parent who is to insecure to take no for an answer as a scapegoat, and a way to explain to ourselves why life is so hard.

Seriously, being an atheist is so much easier and less traumatising.

G said...

kelly Ann, thank you for that link, wow, what a story.

I feel a lot like you in that I am inspired by this woman's strength to overcome a horrible tragedy, and her courage in living with the resulting disfigurement...

but I think especially Elder Holland's (I think) voice over at the end talking about how in the extremes of our suffering it is when we come to know god best (PARAPHRASE).. that is EXACTLY what I mean by a Monster God. A God who's followers are able to get even closer to him, know him better, after the flesh has been burned from their bodies.

What has happened to this women has happened to MANY people. from ALL walks of life, from ALL beliefs (or non-beliefs) and each one of them has to find their own ways of finding strength to go on and that is different for each person. Sometimes faith in God has nothing to do with it.

I see her story much more as a tribute to the power human's have to keep on going, to the power of our love for each other (her family and friends who supported her), and to the advancements that we have made that enabled her to survive.

Kelly Ann said...

Thank you G, very well said! I agree completely.