Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Oprah and the Yearning for . . . Emotional Honesty . . . Rranch

It was really the Yearning for Zion Ranch, that my wife was watching the other night. I wasn't interested but I had gone to bed early and Denise had the show on in the bed room . . . so I ended up watching it.

In the program, at least the part I watched, Oprah interviewed a circle of young brides (some sharing the same husband).

Okay, once again I will end up talking about honesty, and that might be my pet-peeve lately. But my real interest, and it has been so for a decade and a half, is truth. So I’m interested in truth at all levels, and here, once again, I’m speaking of a human (meaning emotional and sociological) truth.

As I watched the Oprah interview with the young brides, who are a part of the Yearning for Zion cult, I sensed a great familiarity. I remember my Evangelical days, both of being on college campus, being in the intensive Navigator training center and a missionary. I can remember how we, while we strained at a gnat (of theological truth) we swallowed a camel of emotional/sociological lies.

What I’m about to say could easily have been included in my “Why it’s hard to speak to an Evangelical” segment. However, in my Evangelical days, we didn’t respond to any question with the honest truth but with a cliché. This is what I observed with the young Yearning wives.

This will be my paraphrase of the Oprah interview, and, btw, Oprah did ask some poignant questions.

In case you are not familiar with the group (and I suspect that most people are more familiar with them than I am) I will summarize . . . again in a paraphrase.

This is a Mormon sect that practices polygamy. Traditionally girls are married off as young as 13 and the men have several wives. Often it is an older man, say 50, who is marrying a young girl (in her teens) but not always. I remember an interview with one boy escapee who commented that all the girls his age (around 18) were taken by the old men.

So one of the questions Oprah asked were, “Do you get jealous of the other wives?”

One gal, after hesitating for a moment, answered along the lines of, “No. We are sisters and we love each other in the Lord.”

It didn’t take long to realize that the interview was totally empty. Good questions asked . . . parrot responses, speaking what they “Should say.”

I can remember as an evangelical (and I’m sure I still do it) being asked a question and, in my subconsciencious mind, looking back through the file drawers, not for the honest answer but for the “correct answer.” This was especially true if I was in a crowd of evangelicals.

For example, we might be out “on evangelism” and a non-Christian asks, “Don’t you ever doubt God’s existence?”

My mind would journey back, avoiding the honest-answer files, and moving past them to the “what you are supposed to say” files, then I would respond, “Never. I know that God is there because I walk with Him every day. I know that He is there as much as I know that I exist. When you trust God with your life, He will reveal Himself to you in a way you can never deny.”

But, in the back of my mind, I knew there were times . . . late at night when I was having insomnia . . . my mind would ask, “How do I really know that God is there? How do I know that this isn’t just a psychological illusion?” I think C.S. Lewis did the same.

But if I were with a group of evangelicals and a non-believer asked me the doubt question and I went back to the “honest files” and pulled out an ambiguous answer, like, “Well, sometimes I wonder if God is really there after all,” my evangelical friends would be extremely disappointed in me and I would be re-classified within that subculture as “not a very strong Christian.”.

I just heard on the Seattle news last night that an atheist group is trying to create some type of anonymous web page or phone bank where “religious people” can come to when they have doubts. They said that their point was not to try and convert the “religious people” to atheisms . . . but to teach them critical thinking skills.

While I agree with their premise, that all people should be taught critical thinking skills, I really don’t buy their benign purpose. I know that I’m often very critical of evangelicalism, however, I see the hard-core atheist as even much more of a farce. They surround themselves with this intellectual arrogance where they really think that they have reached their point of disbelieve through their great minds (and reason). In reality, those confident in their atheistism usually have psychological factors that are not that much different than the Yearning for Zion group. Often it is moral autonomy that drives them.

This brings me back to the YZ group. Let’s get real here. So they live in a situation where men can dominate women and give them orders that must be obeyed. These men can “marry” (or a polite term for legally having sex with) multiple women, even girls much younger than they are. When the men get tired of a woman, they can always be looking for new, virgin flesh. On top of this behavior, they live in a society where they believe that God not only allows this kind of behavior, but He wants it! So when you pick a new 15 year old bride (and you are 50!) and have sex with her, that makes God (and you) happy!

As a mortal, fleshy man, I can say that I see why they believe the way they do. Even the atheist men would like to live like this, but at least they have a moral compass (God-breathed at creation). It is in our man-natural (but not necessarily godly) nature to want to have sex with multiple women, especially younger and younger ones (I’m just being honest here). It is also in our nature to want to dominate others, especially our women and children. In cults, domination is often used in the way that to “disobey me is to disobey God.” It’s a trap! Run for the hills!

Okay, now back to us. I think of more practical terms of how we give parrot answers. I was a missionary once. Honestly, I loved it. I loved living in an exotic country, not having a job during the day. I could spend the day at the park with my kids if I wanted. While we lived with little money, exotic travel was a common requirement. It made it so much easier to say that “God had called us to Egypt.” I’m saying that all our motives were bad. I had a sincere desire to help Moslems come to Christ. But, us as broken humans never have pure motives about anything.

Right now I am trying to create a study abroad program for PA and medical students. I had the rare opportunity on a plane the other day to be my usual candid self without someone questioning me. I was sitting beside a guy around 30 who works for a Christian outdoor adventure organization. This guy was very honest that the reason that he was doing it was because he could get paid, not well—but paid, to do the things he loves. I’m really glad he didn’t do the evangelical parrot thing, “Oh God called me to this ministry.” I’m sure he is helping the teens that are in their program but he also is doing it because he loves mountain climbing, kayaking and etc.

I felt very free to tell him that the reasons that I’m trying to start my company are (and in this order): 1) Pay my way to live overseas, at least for short periods of time, 2) To be in the role of teacher and expert, to a group of students (ego massage), 3) Help those people who have little medical resources and 4) Try to broaden the vision of these students to see the needs around the world.

But if this were going to be a Christian endeavor (mission group) I would have to paint over all the motives with a simple, 1) “God has called me to this mission to save the lost.”

I remember a conversation with a fellow evangelical (but who has since become disillusioned with the faith and left) back in college. He said something to the effect, “Christian decision making is where we quickly decide what we want to do, then spend a huge amount of effort making it look like something God wants us to do.”

The only thing wrong with that is that we should be honest about it. Hey, I want to go be a missionary in X, Y or Z because being a missionary makes me look very spiritual.


Hope T. said...

Cliches. Maybe that explains why it hurts (unexpectedly) when someone says "Look to the Lord" or "Keep looking Up". Those are good things to do but... it feels like the person is not really interacting with you or what you just said. It reminds me of one of those telemarketers reading from a script. I've had some strange calls from those types that never deviate from what the printed script says even when wildly inappropriate. The funniest one was when someone called to speak to "Baby Boy" about his recent hospital bill. Uh yeah, my 6 week old infant, Baby Boy, was going to be able come to the phone. Christian cliches can leave one feeling just as disconnected from reality even though they are in and of themselves true and accurate.

I read a book by one of the wives who left the cult. Very enlightening as to the fear and mind-control that is practiced on these young girls (and boys).

MJ said...

Funny . . . in a sad sort of way. Yeah do you hate it when you get a canned answer to a very serious question.

I shared before that when I was in the midst of a major collapse of my christian world, doubting God's existence, in a clinical depression . . . I was working with a super-spiritual evangelical that was always spouting "Precious Moments" cliches when I would try to vent some of my pain. Usually something like, "Who are you to doubt God . . . He never doubts you."

Norm, the guy, soon after this, abruptly left his wife and seven children for a much younger nurse . . . whom he had been sleeping with for years. So there was this strange disconnect between his cliches and his secret practice of life.

Hope T. said...

Wow - I wonder how you can keep from turning purple with anger at some of the things people say to you. I have to admit I can barely keep in my rage when someone says, "Everything will be all right". Well, in the END, everything will be all right but at this very moment things are not so great. But I guess I have to remember that sometimes people use these phrases to put a wall between you and them. I am sure that a wall was necessary for that guy who had a secret life with his nurse.

Anonymous said...

Good questions asked . . . parrot responses, speaking what they “Should say.”

I believe George Orwell called this "duckspeak". Closely related to "goodthink".

Anonymous said...

Back when that polyg cult got raided last year, a friend of mine (who did a lot of historical/re-enacter costuming) made some remark about the way those women were dressed. Over the weekend, I asked him to reiterate what he said back then:

Those women are NOT dressed in accurate 19th Century "Prairie Dress", but the modification of it used by Hollywood studios from roughly the Forties through the Seventies. (Actual Prairie Dresses were much looser and shapeless, hence their other name of "Sack Dresses".)

The style of full-coverage dress with cinched waist and upper-torso bodice curves owes a LOT more to the Little House on the Prairie studio wardrobe department than it does to the original 19th Century Mormon Handcart Pioneers. (And you see the same clothing style -- with the addition of Amish bonnets -- on every soft-focus "Bonnet Romance" cover in the fiction sections of officially Christian (TM) Bookstores.)

Headless Unicorn Guy

P.S. (My friend also said -- more ominously -- that long sleeves and high collar/necklines do a real good job of hiding bruises on the neck and arms, i.e. "The places you're going to leave marks when you manhandle a woman.")