A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today
4 of 5: “It’s All About the Story”
Some Mormons have begun to publicly criticize me for “spending my life criticizing the LDS Church.” It’s true that 5 of my 14 books are about Mormonism. However, that’s a fraction of my writings, and until this year the last book I published on the subject was 15 years ago. If I were the rabid dog nipping at the heel of their church, I counter, I certainly wasn’t very consistent. Thus when I felt a call to re-enter into the LDS thought world and examine its sea-changes, I did so with all the enthusiasm of Moses leaving the burning bush as I began to write The Mormon Mirage.
And, at the same time I was researching for this look at the Mormonism of the 21st century, I was also writing a novel, Latter-day Cipher.
Why would someone whose lifetime body of work was almost all non-fiction (books and hundreds of magazine articles and other short works) turn to writing a novel, one with a similar subject to some previous nonfiction books?
I confess: For many years I looked down on fiction writers – at least those who dealt with religious subjects – as having a much less rigorous task. But increasingly over the past years, I have felt a desire to explore ways new for me, of conveying truth through fiction.
One reason for this goes back all the way to a high school English class assignment and the impact it had on me. Though I have almost nothing in common with Upton Sinclair, the activist and writer of the early 20th century, I have never forgotten some of the images of his novel, The Jungle. Sinclair tried for years to write journalistic articles to raise public consciousness about the meatpacking industry, but not until he wrote his novel did people really pay attention (and thePure Food and Drug Act resulted from the outcry.)
We are living in a new world where people access information in twitters, on blogs, and through fiction and visual effects as much as through straight expository reading. Young people communicate with quotes from movies that make their conversations incomprehensible to those who haven’t seen the films. For a large segment of our population, it’s all about the story.
Jesus understood this, with the “single stabbing truth” of a parable, with the introduction of nameless people in daily scenarios, introduced by an almost-casual, “What do you think?”
But Jesus didn’t teach only in parables. He taught straight exposition, too. There has to be something behind every story, a framework that explains it all and doesn’t leave decisions to personal narratives and the force of emotions.
I had nothing to do with two publishers’ decisions to release a fiction and a nonfiction book about Mormonism within days of each other. But I’m thinking now that God wanted something up to date and heavily documented like The Mormon Mirage as a sort of backbone – a support and nerve center, so to speak – for the assertions of the characters in Latter-day Cipher.
Those who criticize what they call “anti-Mormon” writing say that the arguments are worn out, the Scriptural contrasts tired. For those whose hardened hearts have heard those “proofs” repeatedly and must resort to burying themselves in the slender hopes of convoluted Mormon-speak, it is undoubtedly so.
But for every Mormon who begins to confront the possibility that Mormonism could be wrong, it is as new as first sex. We feel as if we have invented it.
My novel, Latter-day Cipher, has sympathetically-portrayed LDS characters. They love Mormonism as I once did. They wrestle with these things as if they were Adams and Eves.
Every discovery of so-called “deprecated doctrines”http://www.mormonwiki.org/Deprecated_doctrines is as personal as an inexplicable receipt found in a spouse’s wallet.
Most insurmountable of all for them is the deal-breaker element unique to Mormonism: the fact that for a faithful Mormon (such as I once was), something can be true and doctrinal for one generation, and then be repudiated in the next.
In the language of Representational Research, such actions by a church are not just changes of representations, they are the wholesaling of facts.
For more information, see The Mormon Mirage 3rd Edition: A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today (Zondervan, 2009). Also available as an audiobook and as an expanded-text E-book for Nook, Kindle and other reading devices.