Why the Original Story of Job Was Good, and Why This Version Sucks

| 5 Comments

In a recent comment, Parker asked me if I'd read a story entitle "Calling and Election" currently posted on a Mormon website known as the Red Brick Store. He asked for my response, so I offered one.

And then I kept thinking about the story.

I called the story "craven," and while I knew that was the right term, I had a hard time pinpointing why. But I think I've got it now.

A couple of commenters call attention to the fact that the story is based on the story of Job. It's pretty obvious: this Lucifer character, the way the protagonist's life is thrown into chaos, the three false friends who think they're comforting him.

I have always felt that the single most important point in the entire story of Job is his commitment to justice, so much so that he demands an audience with and accountability from God, in such a way that God knows Job deserves it. Of course God gives him the audience but not the accountability--just shows up and says, "Who the hell are you? I'm way more powerful than you, so don't tell me what to do."

And Job cowers before the display of power and takes all his criticism back.

And God tacitly admits the injustice that has been done to Job and God's role in it by giving Job a completely new family, as if the children he lost were interchangeable with and replaceable by some new kids, new wealth, and telling everyone who questioned Job, "Job wasn't the wicked one; you are."

But the Job-like character in this story is too craven, too timorous, too gutless to call out to God and say, "I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard: I cry aloud, but there is no judgment" and "Oh, that I knew where I might find God! That I might come even to his seat! I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say against me."

This is it, this is the core problem of Mormonism: it refuses to hold its scripture, its prophets and its God accountable. Mormonism claims to reject the notion of infallibility for anyone but God--his prophets are not infallible--but practically speaking, that's not true. If you question the brethren, you're guilty of wickedness.

This is why the state where George W. Bush has the highest rate of approval and popularity is Utah: Mormons don't understand accountability. They don't require it. They aren't capable of it.

A system that does not hold its leaders--even divine leaders--accountable cannot admit its mistakes, and cannot evolve and improve as needed, and cannot demand true accountability and maturity from its followers.

Good grief, stuff like this makes me so glad I outgrew the church.

5 Comments

I like the phrase "outgrew the church."

I've talked to a few people recently (both in and out of the church) about how important it is to think and to question. I think the most toxic part of Mormonism is that it actively discourages thinking and questioning, while pretending the opposite. I can't tell you how many times I told people, "No, you don't understand - the church teaches us to question it and think about it and come to our own conclusions." It was a (REALLY) long time before I realized that the church SAYS that, but doesn't mean it.

I thought the story could have been interesting if the author had explored how the Church was incapable of distinguishing between Church induced behavior/personality and behavior/personality caused by a brain tumor, neither of which represented his true self. And surly the author intended for the line where Jerry saw himself at some future time serving potatoes in the temple to be a reflection of his psychotic state. On second thought, maybe that is a stretch.
Parker

Hi Rebecca--

I like the phrase "outgrew the church."

I'm sure some people still in the church would find it condescending, but when I read things like that story, it seems appropriate.

I can't tell you how many times I told people, "No, you don't understand - the church teaches us to question it and think about it and come to our own conclusions." It was a (REALLY) long time before I realized that the church SAYS that, but doesn't mean it.

What drove me crazy was this completely dishonest safety catch the church built into its "ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true" exhortation, which is this: If you don't get an answer that agrees with all the doctrines of the church, then you didn't ask with a sincere heart, or real intent, or real faith in Christ, and the problem is YOU, not the answer you got.

Hi Parker--

I thought the story could have been interesting if the author had explored how the Church was incapable of distinguishing between Church induced behavior/personality and behavior/personality caused by a brain tumor, neither of which represented his true self.

Yes, that would have been an interesting story--as well as one requiring a degree of distance this writer doesn't seem capable of.

And surly the author intended for the line where Jerry saw himself at some future time serving potatoes in the temple to be a reflection of his psychotic state.

I thought that was supposed to be truly redemptive.

What puzzled me was this passage:

“You’ll be back, you know,” Brother Lucy said, holding his attention, “inside of a year, I predict. I’ve seen it before: excommunicated from the Lord’s church, and sweeping his floors.” Then, taking the envelope in his hand and touching it dramatically to his forehead, he said, “I prophesy! In a year from now you’ll be in this temple, doing ordinances and serving potatoes in the cafeteria.”

Brother Lucy is Satan, a guy who realizes he's battling goodness and trying to spread evil. So if the protagonist ends up back in the temple serving potatoes, Satan has lost. What he's offering the protagonist is comfort, right? Why would he do that, if his intention is to destroy this person?

It makes no sense.

The protagonist was so mediocre--in his righteousness, his badness. OK, it's not cool to expose teenagers to porn, or terrorize sheep by prophesying to them. (I guess the Brethren know all about that.) But that's it? That's as bad as this guy can be?

He needs to watch Thelma and Louise for some lessons on how to REALLY go bad.

The biggest delusion in the story is the idea that this guy was a big enough fish for the head honchos of either team to want to fry him.

Holly,
You know, I feel like every second I spend on this story is a second wasted. But I just read the "interview" with the author at theredbrickstore, and I feel as though I have entered the twilight zone. He acts as though the story was revealed to him from heaven and he hasn't figured it out either. Since I write enough bad stuff myself I am cautious about what I say about others, but I thought the story was inane--in fact, what was the conflict, and what was the resolution?

I just realized that my problem is that the story (and many of the comments) reminds me too much of many lessons and talks I heard at Church. I will acknowledge that as my problem, along with my lack of appreciation for lime jello with pineapple chunks (that is Church endorsed, right?). What I am trying to say is the piece drives me crazy, (both as a story and its "utterly Mormon" didactic. But I really, really would like to be free of that craziness.

So peace on earth and good will toward all who write seeking the truth, including those who wish to use fiction to prove the Gospel, i.e. the Church, true. And that, I realize lends itself to another comment about religion and fiction, but I think I will go watch Jon Stewart instead. Oh,and happy belated birthday.

Parker

What I am trying to say is the piece drives me crazy, (both as a story and its "utterly Mormon" didactic. But I really, really would like to be free of that craziness.

Yes, to both parts--both the being driven crazy and the wanting to be free of it.

So peace on earth and good will toward all who write seeking the truth, including those who wish to use fiction to prove the Gospel, i.e. the Church, true.

I do think fiction and poetry can be used to illustrate truths--but not to PROVE them. For instance, here's "a truth" but not THE truth illustrated by one of my favorite poems, "This Be the Verse" by Philip Larkin:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

you can't PROVE anything with that poem. You can only say that you do or don't understand the contingent, partial, inadequate but still enduring and meaningful truth it explores about relationships between generations, and where misery and suffering come from.

Oh,and happy belated birthday.

Thanks--I did indeed have a birthday last week, but didn't blog about it for a change. Most years, I do. This year--I admit, I was a little ambivalent about getting older. Not that I'm thinking of getting out early, in the way Larkin advises.

Leave a comment

Pages

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.12

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 13, 2008 11:56 AM.

Stuff, and Weather, Happens was the previous entry in this blog.

Why Discussions About God Often Aren't Very Rewarding is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.