Part 3: Amen and Amen

At the end of every talk and prayer in a Mormon service, the speaker pronounces “amen” which is followed by the audience repeating “amen”. The word roughly means “so be it” and is a way for the respondents to voice their public approval and support for what was said. It takes the private thoughts of one individual and gives them group ownership. But it serves a more subtle yet powerful purpose. It demonstrates group acquiescence. It show cohesion of ideas and sets the bounds on what beliefs and norms are tolerated and promoted in the group. Even if only half of the audience verbalizes it, the collective volume will impress on any listener the groups unified approval of the message. Individuals in the group will accept the idea as the normative thinking of the group.

Different organizations and institutions have differing degrees of required cohesion in thought and action. Little is required in a coffee shop other than the desire to purchase coffee. But in other institutions it is required to identify with the community values and give an outward showing of support and group membership. For some groups, such as the LDS church, it is imperative that a solidarity of thought be projected and maintained and little-to-no dissent is allowed, verbalized or otherwise. Groups benefit from the mass of participants who appear to be in a state of agreement. There is an implied consent involved in any group, but when it is made overt, it becomes even more powerful in managing what adherents believe is acceptable to think, say and do. Not everyone speaks, but it is expected that those who are participating principally agree with the positions of the group–thus the power of the “amen”.

There are also peripheral values that define additional shared values, cultural norms and world views. These values may not be central to the stated purpose, but they define who the group is just as much as the core values. For example, if a person belongs to a bowling league, an observer can rightful determine that this person values bowling. Observing the behaviors and cultural patterns of the league, one can probably determine you attitudes about politics, drinking and other things. If you attend a local sporting event you will be assumed to be a fan by all of the vendors, sponsors, users and other fans. This is why visiting fans from the opposing team will often bear their colors. In fact, the money you spend to buy the ticket will go to the team, the hot dog you purchase in the mezzanine will support the team, and the camera sweeps that show you sitting in the audience will support the team. So even if you do not support the team mentally, there is no way around the fact that you are supporting your team materially and in every way that ultimately matters. And the rest of the world has no idea you aren’t a supporter. They will only see the mass of faces in the crowd. They cease to see the individuals sitting in the seats as individuals. This is the designed intent.

Accepted social norms affect everything we do, whether we like them or not. We tend to internalize the most important ones and we don’t even give them thought. When you go around town, you will see signs that say “No shoes no shirt no service”. This does not mean that we live in a society where pant-less people are tolerated. It is just completely assumed that everyone will wear pants. This social norm is so embraced that it doesn’t even make it into the rules. Everyone knows that someone attending the restaurant will wear pants. Having a knowledge of these factors and participating anyone lends support to the ideas. In legal terms this is called “implied consent” and it easily extends to the philosophical and cultural ideals and practices of the group. If one were to say, “I want the local hockey team to move out of the city” they would need to follow up that thought with visible action or the idea will not gain any traction. But even worse would be holding this thought while also sitting in the stand with the other fans. This is even worse. You presence also will nullify your message and turn you instead into another fan.

The Church thrives on the implied participation of its members and frankly the mental state of that member doesn’t matter. The internal questions, dissent and rebellion against the Church are effectively hidden behind a veil of conformity that has been crafted to manufacture consent. Much of what happens at church is shaped to indicate an outward manifestation of an inward state of mind. There is good reason the Church emphasizes uniformity in dress, in speech in grooming and in jewelry. What many don’t realize is that by setting the boundaries, the Church also controls the mode of dissent and the very ground on which dissent is possible. One might think they are making a statement by wearing a pastel blue shirt instead of stark white one. But that is only a distinction that would be picked up by an insider and the larger world of observers will not be able to tell the difference between “accepted” rebellion and total conformity–think about subtitles like drinking Coke. The outsider will still see the uniformity even in “acceptable” rebellion. Cultural norms and enforced practices set the boundaries and give an illusion of freedom while preserving the core values of the organization. This is why these controlling organizations tend to be focused on seemingly petty behaviors–it moves the debate away from what truly matters to the organization. It provides fencing that keeps individuals from every really showing questioning behaviors in ways that matter. Rebellion then, is defined and tightly controlled and there is no avenue for expressing meaningful dissent.

The Church has a long history of dealing with dissent and its well practiced methods on this front have become precisely honed. Through the years the Church has learned to deal with voices that would advocate change forcefully at times but usually in a subtle manor that is nearly invisible to the masses. Members have been trained to shun even the appearance of non-conformity and the expression of individual thought will be eschewed and disregard. The organizational genius of this is that the majority of the congregation might have non-conforming ideas, and they may even be in agreement with one another, but they will all have the appearance of agreement with the authorized position and they will be completely invisible to one another.

My last calling in the Church was the adult Sunday school teacher. I was struggling with my faith but trying as hard as I could. As I studied to prepare each lesson, I became acutely aware of how well crafted the lesson books were. They were strategically designed to avoid any discussion that might raise questions in regard to the core standards of the Church. Lesson questions were designed to not inspire any real though or reflection but instead to channel the discussion into reinforcement of basic ideas the closed down critical thinking. Often the lesson plan focused on the minutia to avoid things that might not be as clear cut as the Church would have its membership belief. The media propagandizing is very sophisticated and generally cannot be recognized by all but the most sophisticated viewers. Any pointing out discrepancy or falsehood in the manuals would be met with score and discipline “even if true.”

The non-conforming member, even of the most casual strip, is left with a dilemma. Mere participation reinforces the security and entrenchment of the Church and its teachings. The dissenter is left with a Sophie’s Choice between tacit participation and approval or social suicide through reject of family members and friends. This is due to the decision of supporting ritual through participation in such things as child baptisms or temple marriages or the appearance of shunning family members at their life’s events. Because of the structure of these events, implied consent will be noted by all in the room. This is exactly how the Church wants it.

The only real way to change the system is to reject it in its entirety. This of course has huge social cost, which many have had to bare. But those cultural costs will lessen with each individual who chooses to publicly refuse to support the organization. And this break, to get through the structures of silence has to be loud and pronounced. It has to come in the form of willful non-participation in events and formal statements of position that are clearly understood as such. But this brashness is not due to the heretics being louts, it is necessary because the system makes it necessary, it is the only way to get out of the trench and make the message heard.

And what of the Fifth Column? What of those who choose to covertly operate within the Church to achieve reform? One must first argue that the Church is worthy of reform. Some practices and institutions are better to be discarded and start over. Every good builder needs to know the difference between a home that has “good bones” and can be remodeled and one that is simply a tear down. The Church is a tear down plain and simple. But beyond that, to willfully misrepresent oneself in the interest of clandestine sabotage is an act of moral deception. One must be willing to live a lie to accomplish an end. But what end is that? What change can be made to the Church in secret? Certainly dissent that is hidden has no impact as a form of protest. No, as outlined above the avenues of dissent are effectively stopped and silenced. There is no way for all but a handful of people to make any real dent in the culture. And those who try are often overtly silenced, released from their calling, excommunicated and often shunned. At the very least, they are looked upon with derision by their peers which again takes away the effectiveness of their inside protest.

It is imperative that those who know and understand take the position of moral leadership by abandoning the support of an abusive and unhealthy organization.

Part 1: Here I Stand
Part 2: The Vanguard
Part 3: Amen and Amen
Next: Part 4: My Response to the Objections