Spiritual Twinkies and Acceptable Criticism

In the 1990′s, I recall a strong movement against a pernicious offense in church education. The spiritual twinkie was soundly criticized as a useless item of spiritual nourishment, bringing only temporary satisfaction, but failing to build a solid diet. (It is likely that such discourse persists today, but I am not in those circles, so I speak here in the past tense). Like the the milk before meat metaphor, the twinkie came to occupy a particular kind of spiritual nourishment that was seen as neither preparatory, nor advanced, but somehow negative. This kind of spiritual junk food described, well, faith-promoting rumors, false stories, non-scripturally based teachings, etc.

The spiritual twinkie was a sort of open-ended category that could describe a whole host of different kind of objectionable material. Perhaps the most interesting feature, however, was that it served as a critical tool for regulating the discourse of CES itself, and even applied to many of the teachings of the General Authorities. This criticism emphasized that church leaders and teachers should teach doctrines and information.

The category of “spiritual twinkie” raises for me an interesting question about criticism of church leaders and teachers. It provided a way to regulate and reform a certain style of church teaching, and it was a kind of criticism that was embraced internally. I am wondering what made this kind of criticism acceptable, while other kinds of criticism are not. Further, I am curious about how this category came to be populated. Why do some kinds of teachings get the label of “spiritual twinkie,” but other kinds do not? Given the fungibility of its definition, I wonder whether the term was deployed differently to various, even competing ends. Did certain ideological use it to criticize each other?

  • Ann

    mmmmm…Twinkies…

  • http://bloggernacleburner.wordpress.com/ bloggernacleburner

    I view it as a backlash against way too much John Bytheway and other sugar coated heroes of EFY. Also, a backlash against the (likely true) perception that the Seminary program was turning out a lot of spiritually obese kids.

    Thus, we had to be put on a spiritual diet of pure, unrefined GA talks. I’ve still got 50 gallon drums of the unbleached, unprocessed, unrefined, pure 100 percent whole grain spiritual goodness for sale in my online preparedness store. The grinder comes free. Srsly.

  • http://www.kingsxrocks.com/ FHL

    This is barely tangential, but I watched a DVD this week that had an interview with a brother-in-law in it. It’s called Mormon Mythellaneous, and it’s pretty much all about Faith Promoting Rumors. Like did Elvis read the Book of Mormon? Is Alice Cooper a Mormon? Three Nephites stories, etc. Too bad we didn’t get a nod from the filmmakers.

    Would the (in)famous Lorenzo Snow couplet be a spiritual twinkie?

    (Note: I have never liked Twinkies – I prefer Zingers.)

  • http://www.straydogfilms.com Cameron

    Ahh, but a spiritual zinger is a different beast altogether…

  • http://notoriousbiggins.blogspot.com austin

    I just heard the term for the first time last year in a D&C class at BYU, so I guess it’s still around.

  • http://ldsscience.blogspot.com Jared*

    Elder Holland used the term in General Conference–April 1998.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Nitsav

    I think one of the primary reasons it was acceptable was because it came from upper management. Another, perhaps, was that as upper management, E. Holland’s bona fides vis-a-vis the Church are well-established. No one thinks he’s trying to undermine the gospel or its teaching, or is somehow less faithful.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Nitsav,
    I would be surprised if the term was coined by Holland, and that it didn’t exist prior to that. While I agree that Holland’s use of the criticism gives it a certain cache, that is sort of the point of my post. How is that certain kinds of criticism come to be adopted by church leaders and teachers, while other kinds are spurned? For me, the criteria cannot simply be that it has come from church leaders and teachers, because that is circular. How do such people come to accept certain kinds of criticism as normative?

  • http://newcoolthang.com Matt W.

    TT, while I am uncertain whether Holland coined the term, I can find no instances of it’s usage going back to an earlier date, and thus must conclude that even if he didn’t cointhe term (which he may well have, he is freaking awesome) he at least popularized it. But it isn’t so much the phrase we are discussing, but the concept, so I get what you are saying too, but it is not circular to say that church leaders pick up ideas from upper church leaders, it does rather push back the idea to where do upper church leaders pick up ideas, which I am afraid has a rather mundane answer, in that they generate their ideas from a combination of their reasoning and experience, just like everyone else.

  • CE

    TT asks if the spiritual Twinkie criticism could be used by different idealogues to different ends. Interesting question. It sure seems like it could. But I’ve really only seen this term used by fairly conservative orthodox persons in reference to teachings by other fairly conservative orthodox persons. Elder Holland’s talk referenced in comment #6 is an example of this. For a more pretentious, but largely similar use, John Redelfs (author of the archconservative Iron Rod blog) has a list of the ten worst spiritual Twinkies here.

    It seems like the term spiritual Twinkie could just as accurately be used to describe an over-literal, prooftext approach to the scriptures, but I’m not aware of any such use.

  • http://smallsimple.wordpress.com/ Eric Nielson

    I think terms like this are successful because they are sort of vague and do not tie you down to specifics. I think it is the more specific criticisms that will cause more controversy.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Great suggestions all! Redelf’s usage is particularly interesting because he has a clear view in mind of what he thinks the gospel is and uses it to exclude a particular kind of teaching, many of which are actually quite consistant with his own view. He thus excludes certain teachings not only on the basis of their content, but also their source.

  • http://bloggernacleburner.wordpress.com/ bloggernacleburner

    Doood. Did anyone else get the church-made video of #10 at their baptism? The whole ‘I’m going to give you all my blood because I love you’ is seared into my brain with a hot branding iron.

    It’s like Johnny Lingo, as Mormon as guilt and funeral potatoes.

  • porterrockwell

    So let’s see. We have the church youth in seminary 5 days a week, plus SS lesson, plus Priesthood meeting lesson, plus Sacrament meeting talks. Add to it a Youth Activity once a month, an a fireside once a month. By my reconning we are preaching at the teenagers 38 hours a month.. clearly there is time for a few “spritiual twinkies in there? What is the harm in allowing them to enjoy a few minutes of dynamic, good, enjoyable story telling?

    There are great, humble, doctrinal teachers out there that present the scripural fact, and just the fact. They do a great job. However, is there not room for personable, entertaining teachers in the mix?

  • ldsym

    I am altering my comment (just above) I think I miss-understood what a Spiritual Twinkie is.

    I am fully opposed to faith promoting rumors, or any other apocryphal tales that make their way into lazy teacher’s lessons. If that is what we are talking about as “spiritual twinkies” than I am opposed.

    I took the meaning to be dynamic, energetic, story telling teachers that (while teaching sound doctrine) make the lessons more entertaining with stories and other bits of entertainment. I was reacting more to the criticism of John Byetheway. Just because he tells a few jokes, uses language that Teen identify with does not mean he is a poor teacher. He has his place, others with a different style have theirs. I have seen a few of his DVD’s, never seen him in person but from what I have seen he has sound doctrine, and has a gift for speaking to teens.