Friday, March 27, 2009

When Culture Is Seen As Command

Culture becomes habit; habit becomes seen as command.

Just a few examples relative to the sacrament - with the understanding that there are numerous other examples not related to the sacrament:

1) I actually have heard someone claim that the sacrament is a "right hand ordinance". Does anyone really want to suggest that someone whose right arm has been amputated can't partake of the sacrament correctly - that his situation is allowable as an "alternative" to the "right way"?

2) In our ward, the deacons uniformly walk and stand with their left hand tucked behind their backs. Does anyone really want to suggest that God watches us and gets upset when I pass the sacrament without tucking my left hand behind my back?

3) Do we really think he cares exactly how the deacons line up at the sacrament table? Would he be happier if they lined up in order of height or by age or coordinated by hair color? That last question was obviously stupid, but how is it any different than the left arm tuck rule? It's not.

My general rule of thumb:

If a practice appears to have no other motivation beside conformity - no spiritual benefit or symbolic significance - it nearly always, if not always, is cultural and not doctrinal. If it really is vital for our salvation, it will be recorded. In the case of commandments, "unwritten order" means multiplicity of interpretations - just like the game where you go around the circle and what is said at the beginning is completely different by the time it gets all the way around that circle.

If it ain't written, it ain't real and shouldn't be enforced universally, in my opinion.

7 comments:

Spandex King said...

In our ward it's the white shirt war. Some people think shirt of any color and tie is okay. Others it's white shirt and tie. They have fought about this for years. Our Bishop has just set the standard as white shirt. I agree with him on this not that it makes a huge difference but it's the symbol of purity and it's easy.

Bruce in Montana said...

One might argue that conformity can serve to help teach obedience and promote humility.
I see your point as well though.

Paul said...

"...just like the game where you go around the circle and what is said at the beginning is completely different by the time it gets all the way around..."

Which is why we should avoid letting stories about Jesus and the devil turn into stories about the incredible hulk. Like this one. :)

Papa D said...

SK, I used to dislike the white shirt to administer the sacrament rule, but I had one of those "AHA!" moments while listening to Elder Oaks' talk about it. Now, I support it fully. HOWEVER, I think applying the wearing of white shirts across the board for ALL male members regardless of their participation in administering the sacrament is exactly what I am addressing in this post. That's like requiring white clothes for all who even attend a baptism, and I hope all of us would recognize the absurdity of that demand.

BiM, I understand that and am fine with it in general principle applied in moderation for important symbolism. Otherwise, it crosses my own line.

Paul, what can I say, bro? I'm speechless, and that's really hard to do. *grin*

backandthen said...

Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike? Like the question I sent you by mail a while ago? LOL

swedemom said...

AMEN. I don't really have gripes about church because I just ignore certain things. But I can tell you that I can face to face with the unwritten order of things while living in Sweden. It was amazingly difficult to get all the cultural rules--and the worst part was the way people reacted when you unwittingly broke an unwritten rule. It drove me completely crazy.

Papa D said...

b&a, I almost left the following comment to you in the Random Marriage Advice thread:

"Uh . . . well . . . yeah."

sm, you said:

"the worst part was the way people reacted when you unwittingly broke an unwritten rule."

That always is fascinating to me - even more than how those unwritten things come to be seen as command.