Monday, July 9, 2007

In Which We Are Trained To Be Nice

I am appalled and concerned about the recent trend on the Bloggernacle to avoid controversy and to be nice at all costs. This went so far today as Times & Seasons taking down their post about the impropriety of the Marriott hotel chain being involved in questionable activities. On this chain, there were heated comments presenting both sides of an argument of concern to all of us as members and friends of the LDS Church. I realize that Times & Seasons strives to present a faithful aspect of Mormonism. In the past, I think they have done an admirable job of being balanced and fair while faithfully discussing issues of concern to LDS of a more intellectual bent. On occasion, they have found it necessary to delete comments, moderate the discussion, or close the comment forum down when they felt things were out of control. I think these actions are sometimes necessary in maintaining the tenor they would like to present at T&S. But in my opinion, deleting the entire thread is censorship akin to the type I have found unacceptable in the Mormon Church.

LDS members are trained to be nice at all costs. One will rarely find a satisfying intellectual discussion in any of our meetings, because we do not wish to tread on toes or cause waves. We will keep things inside of ourselves to the point of explosion, because we've been trained to be nice. Perhaps this is valuable in a ward setting. After all, we must closely associate with the members of a ward over an extended period of time. We must socialize with them, teach their children, work with them and attend meetings together.

But the Bloggernacle is an excellent forum for the expression of our true feelings. We can tell it like it is. We don't have to worry about official Church disapproval or repercussions. (at least so far...) We can discuss things that may not be welcome in our ward or even in our own homes. We are also able to participate at our comfort level. If the discussion gets too heated for our taste, we can be gone at the click of a mouse. The only thing we need to remember is that our position is only one view of the world. Others will have different ideas. These differing positions are not an indication of the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of any participant.

The blogger MCQ has opined: "At their most basic level, blog posts are expressions of ideas. The ideas are those of the poster originally, then those ideas are added to or modified by the subsequent comments. They become unique expressions, a preserved moment in time, and can never be perfectly duplicated once they are gone. These ideas deserve a spot in the marketplace, to stand or fall in the court of opinion. By their very nature they do not imply the endorsement of all who are permabloggers on a particular site, and anyone is free to voice their agreement or disagreement with them explicitly in the comments. Based on the above, there is no affirmative reason, in my mind, to ever delete them. Moreover, there is a grave danger in doing so. It is a disservice to all of us when deletions take place, because it robs us all of the opportunity to learn from the ideas that were expressed there."

I have always regretted actions of the Church which tend to censor or force members not to publish on their personal conjectures. I am more of the opinion of Gamaliel, when he says in the Book of Acts: "Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God." There were many things I did not agree with on the T&S thread. However, reading the discussion of the topic helped me form my own opinion. A more restrained restatement of the problem can be found at BCC (Sustaining Our Leaders, Sustaining One Another, by Mark Brown). But I found nothing wrong with the original post. That the discussion became heated and out of control is only an indication that the respondents possessed strong feelings on the subject. Such strong feelings should have a place to be expressed while feeling free to remain affiliated with the Church.

That is the value of the Bloggernacle to me. I can always attend my local ward when I am looking for niceness.


Jo said...

I find this thread interesting since I am dealing with this in my own life right now. Only the other side. Being shut down because I wouldn't pretend to be nice. Reminds me of the whole poly "keep sweet". Sheesh.

J G-W said...

I love open, free-ranging debate and discussion. However, I have found there to be a tendency in the wider bloggernacle sites for discussion to get mean-spirited. Maybe it's just because I tend to read the posts about homosexuality, and for some reason people feel it is OK to attack and impugn the personal motives of other posters when discussing this very controversial topic. Perhaps I also find these posts more difficult to read, because some people say very unpleasant, unkind, stereotypical things about gay people.

The way things work in my ward are a pleasant contrast with this nastiness. Yes, when you deal face-to-face with someone in an LDS ward, there is an implicit contract of behavior that seems to be missing (for good or for ill) on the blogs. I think there's a danger, on the Internet, of faceless interactions degenerating into nastiness because there are none of the traditional restraints on ill-mannered behavior. Anonymity can have a destructive aspect.

This is not to say I disagree with your overall point -- I don't like censorship either. Again, as a gay man in the Church, censorship has generally worked against me.

I wish there were some kind of blogger ethics certification you had to get, though, before participating on the blogs! I love free-ranging open discussion, when it can be carried on respectfully!

I find this to be more the case on private blogs, like your own, maybe because personal blogs are much more likely to draw people into a friendship-like network.

Bored in Vernal said...

JGW, do you find in the ward setting that it is possible to have pleasant conversation about the topic of gay marriage and how it relates to the Proclamation, or do people just ignore the subject, and treat you kindly?

My point is that yes, things may be nice and safe, but if you really have a hankering to talk about controversial topics, it's not always possible to do it in the ward situation. Bringing up difficult things tends to brand you, or shut you down, as Jo has found.

However, you have hit upon the one thing I deplore in Bloggernacle debate: when someone uses what you have said to make a decision about your personal righteousness. This has happened to me, and it hurts.

Kullervo said...

"LDS members are trained to be nice at all costs."

I disagree whole-heartedly. LDS members are simply trained to never debate. Never to argue. I've read plenty of quotes by GA's to that effect.

However, at the same time there's a line of thinking in the church that equates blunt tactlessness on the part of priesthood leaders etc. with spirituality. They are often everything but nice. And I'm talking about the whole spectrum from EQ presidents to GAs.

I have had plenty of run-ins with priesthood leaders who wielded the gospel like a club, and to many members, that's seen as being particularly righteous.

But indeed, it has been made perfectly clear that there is no room in Mormonism for debate. There are pronouncements from priesthood leaders, and there's discussion about them. That's it.

To me, Mormonism suffers for it. Mormonism has no real theology, because people aren't really given the chance to hash out ideas and have a good old-fashioned theological debate with each other- the kind of dialogue that really refines viewpoints and sharpens doctrines.

Paula said...

I think that what kullervo added is important. While I do think that we are really trained to be nice, we aren't also trained to believe that there is a way to disagree, sometimes vehemently, while still being "nice", or at least civil to each other. We've also got a long history of ad hominem attacks, so much so that I think many members don't recognize one when they see one.

I too think that the post should have been left up, even though some of the comments were really outrageous. Bill Marriott's a big boy and should be able to handle a few mean comments from bloggers, and I do think that Marriott's porn policy is not really consistent with church teachings.

Last Lemming said...

Since this seems to be the only relevant thread with open comments, I will make my suggestion here--namely to repost the original Marriott thread at Banner of Heaven. That way, T&S can keep its hands clean without eradicating the content of the thread.

It's kind of like when Bill Clinton needed somebody to talk to Vladimir Zhiranovsky (an ultranationalist politician in Russia). Instead of sending an official representative of the U.S. government, he sent Nixon--just the right mixture of ability, prestige, and stench to send the right message to all parties.

Paula said...

I was wondering later if my comments sounded contradictory. I do think that it's not right to make ad hominem attacks, and that there have been far too many of them on the internet, at blogs, the FAIR board, etc. And some of the comments at Times and Seasons on that post were out of line. But I still wouldn't have taken it down. I think it was unfortunate to take it down before anyone at Marriott saw it, since I doubt that Bill gets a lot of really honest hard criticism from people who work for him or his local church leaders. I think it would have been good for them to see what other church members think about this. His niece lives in my stake, and I thought about calling her Friday night to tell her about it, but then decided I didn't really want to be involved in it.

Tanya Sue said...

I like the debates too. However the Marriot topic was pretty critical of someone/something we don't have all of the information on. I also wonder if there was concern about a lawsuit for some kind.

In regards to being nice-it is horrible! Not only are we criticized for arguing, but when we even ask questions people often wonder how we let Satan into our lives. We are supposed to be nice and not question...

Just out of curiousity. Does anyone have an opinion on whether that is the gospel or the culture? I mean the gospel was restored because someone asked a question. Shouldn't we embrace questions? Welcome them with excitement?

J G-W said...

These are all questions I have had to come to terms with in some significant way in coming back to the Church.

To be honest I don't want to have debates -- or even friendly discussions -- in priesthood meeting about the value of gay marriage, or how it relates to the Proclamation. I honestly don't think that is what Church is for. Though if you do, there are certainly plenty of churches out there -- like the UCC or the Unitarians -- who agree with you. I attend the UCC with my partner, so maybe I get that "out of my system" there!

I had the experience a couple of weeks ago of sitting in a Sunday school lesson, and having the sister who was teaching it haul out the Proclamation and start reading it. And at the time I thought, "Oh, shit. Here we go." And to my amazement, as she read it, I felt the Spirit. I realized that though some people want to use the Proclamation as an anti-gay cudgel (and that might even be how this sister intended to use it), it is really quite a remarkable statement of values that I fundamentally agree with, and that I find myself wanting to apply to my own relationship.

I know, I know... One man one woman and all that. But here's the thing. If I wanted to spend precious Sunday School time debating that one sentence in the Proclamation, I am certain that I would not have felt the Spirit, and I would have missed out on this experience which taught me that there is nothing that is a part of Church teaching that I need fear. The Spirit can help us sort out for ourselves what we need to know.

I don't think Mormons are unique in wanting to overstress "niceness" at the expense of honesty. We have an expression here in Lutheran/Catholic Minnesota, "Minnesota nice." Same concept, same problem.

We need lots of practice learning to talk to each other in ways that own our own baggage, respect others, tell the truth, AND keep us open to what others have to say to us.

Mark said...

Interestin how almost every organized religion exercises some form of censorship. Is this driven by insecurity. Are they afraid that we may catch a glimpse of the man behind the curtain?

brooke said...

i'm late.. just reading for the first time. the niceness thing is not something i'm a big fan of. once in sunday school the fellow teaching made a blatant political comment and if my muslim friend had been there visiting i would have been embarrassed.. but no one said anything. i come to the church from an activist background. i think you can be nice, but still disagree, or call someone on something. when i approached some of my life long lds friends in the ward about the situation they just said that people don't usually call people on things like that. it drove me nuts. want to change something? say something. also the culture of niceness makes me wonder how genuine people really are being when i connect with them as well. it's quite difficult with my background.