I’m just a New Zealander. I’m a South Seas outlier looking on at my big brother, the US and the way he figures out the game of life and tries to take the winners proceedings. And with my tiny voice at the bottom of the globe I’d like to say something by way of observation about the way the big boys play.
I managed to catch a couple of sessions of the ‘Mormonism and the Internet’ conference held at UVU this week. It was a very good conference including some excellent keynotes and panels. One particular panel was intriguing. It included John Dehlin who shared his findings from the ‘Why Mormon’s Leave’ survey, Scott Gordon from Fair who talked about ‘The Role of Apologetics’, and a non-LDS emerging scholar, Rosemary Avance who discussed her research on ‘Mormon conversion and deconversion narratives’. I love discourse analysis, so Rosemary’s work was fabulous. However it was the interaction between John and Scott that had me riveted.
Those of us who know John’s work respect him as someone who has gathered people’s stories and has given them a remarkable forum for the voices of those people to be heard. These include everyday Mormons’ stories of pain, anger and hurt in their relationship with the church, as well as their stories of faith, joy and conversion. John’s rationale seems to be transparency. ‘Let the stories be told and lets see what transpires in the telling, and let openness, frankness and honesty frame whatever might follow’. John represents a growing cohort of Mormon post-structuralist, phenomenological existentialists who are bent on the deconstruction, critique, interrogation and testing of truth claims and the manner in which these truth claims ‘construct’ social identities.
Those of us who are familiar with the work of FairLDS and the Maxwell Institute know their work in apologetics. Mormon apologetics seems to have taken either a decidedly scientific evidentialist route, or have made historical and legal claims as to the efficacy of the Mormon theological position. Mormon apologetics begins at the position of ‘truth’ and circles back around gathering ‘evidence’ on its way to its starting point. ‘Let us accumulate evidence and use reason to confirm our hypothesis so that there will be no choice but to believe.’ Apologists are largely positivists, empiricists and rationalists who use reason to assert their metaphysical claims.
What we have in Mormonism presently is the classic discursive rupture captured so archetypically in the competing positions held by Scott and John. These embattled religious subjectivities are reminiscent of the timeless philosophical debates between; The Cartesian man v the Lacanian Man; The Enlightenment man v the Romantic man; The Modernist v. the Post-Modernist.
Yes, yes – I know this is all very big-headed and probably extraordinarily poor philosophy, but as I watched Lou Midgley characteristically attempt to beat down John Dehlin in the aftermath I was reminded of similar show downs between Stephen Colbert and Bill O’Reilly, or Michael Moore and Sean Hannity at UVU a couple of US elections ago. I was also reminded of tangled buck antlers during rutting season in the deer park. As Joanna Brookes and I mused detachedly on the scene as it played out before us, it all became very clear. This was a boy’s game. And although I am philosophically attached to John’s critical position I couldn’t help but feel an enormous surge of frustration that he has to play this game in an environment that is thick with insistence that someone has to win, that someone has to be ‘right’, or that a card needs to be trumped. I’m not an essentialist, by any means; perhaps men have been constructed to be social as well as physical competitors? Either way, this particular game was, and continues to be unremittingly, unreservedly, frustratingly and brutalizingly masculine. And in the United States this binary is excessively amplified by the political and social context that draws unhelpful distinctions between villains and heroes, winners and losers, black and white, left and right, rights and wrongs, ins and outs, ups and downs, truths and errors. Religion and politics in the US is Super Bowl Sunday on spiritual crack.
Speaking of sports, in New Zealand rugby is our national religion. The first World Cup Rugby Competition was held in 1987 where the All Black’s won. It would be 2011 before the All Blacks graced the winners podium again. We have spent two decades in mourning having to watch defeat after defeat at the World Cup semi and grand finals. Coaches have been fired, players criticized and dumped, and every rugby blooded New Zealander is the All Black’s unofficial team selector and strategist. However, in the background during a long period of this AB losing streak, the Black Ferns, New Zealand’s women’s rugby team, have been undefeated in back to back Women’s World Cup competitions and have, year in and year out, claimed 1st place in the IRB world rankings.
This team is an absolute machine. They are a full throttle assault on any opposition, and have the capacity to literally decimate their assailants with an intuitive and graceful style of rugby unequaled on any pitch or in any game I have seen. They don’t try to play like the men, they are part of the same code, honour the same rules, but they play like girls. They are canny, clever, resourceful, confident, quick, insightful and instinctive. They play as a team, not show ponies trying to impress the selectors and fans. They aren’t playing for the attention of the boys, they are playing for the love of the game. They aren’t entrenched in the mentality of the rugby club room or the who’s who in the organizational hierarchy. They aren’t all over-salaried wanna-be All Black captains and coaches in waiting. They are winners, who, in the age of corporatized, franchised, fat cat, big boys rugby, have played on, out of the shade of the grand stadium, and they have bested the boys.
Mormonism needs feminine and feminist players in order to keep the game at grass-roots. That I as a woman have found Christ’s message as other than the Anglo-normative, Ameri-centric, post-Fordist, neo-liberal, chauvinistic, misogynistic, conservative, hyper-patriarchal, hierarchical, aristocratic, religious market-driven, adversarial, colonial enterprise that seems to characterize this behemoth as presently constituted, is not my fault and its not a characteristic of someone who is spiritually truant– I just read the rule book closely as a good Mormon girl is supposed to. If my sisters would pull their eyes away from the stallions for a moment and join the girls’ game in the back paddock, those blokes might one day look up and see the stadium emptied of fillies. And they might even wander over to see the game as Jesus (a first five himself) intended it to be played?!