Snide Remarks

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    By ERIC D. SNIDER

    Sunday School in BYU student wards is better than in regular wards for two reasons: No crying babies, and fewer crazy people.

    I learned to appreciate this when I visited my home ward over Christmas break. In the Gospel Doctrine class there, we were discussing D&C 138 (or, as it is commonly called, “D&C 138”). Early on, one class member spent several minutes talking about how her brother had been visited several times by their dead mother, and how she had explained what it was like in the hereafter: trees and flowers, and everybody’s really nice, and there’s always a place to park, Ben & Jerry’s only costs a nickel.

    While this woman was going on and on about her mother’s visitations, it occurred to me that even if all this IS true, there isn’t much point in mentioning it except to show off to the other class members (“MY dead mom visits my brother, and YOURS doesn’t, so nyah nyah nyah”), because it doesn’t add any new perspective to anything, nor is it particularly inspiring. Also, if it’s true, it’s probably too sacred to be discussing it in Sunday School, where people like me can make fun of it.

    Later in the lesson, the teacher asked, “What do we know about the division in the spirit world?” It’s a simple question, and one that missionaries discuss amongst themselves constantly. According to the way these terms are used in common missionary parlance, “paradise” consists of those people who were good, whereas “spirit prison” consists of those people who were rude to missionaries. (This theory presents a problem in some areas. For example, in Chile, where no person has ever been rude to a missionary, and where the capital city of Santiago now has 30 missions just in the downtown area, and where the fire hydrants are constantly running so that, to save time, investigators can be baptized as they walk down the street — in Chile, missionaries are at a loss to explain WHO will be in spirit prison.)

    Anyway, back to Sunday School. The question was about how the spirit world is divided, and in response to that question, the same woman as before raised her hand. She launched into another speech about the order in which you meet people when you cross over into the spirit world, and how it’s a lot like Munchkinland, in that people sing you along your way and show you where to go, and there’s candy canes and lollipops and stuff. All of this, she said, is true regardless of whether you were good or bad before you died. Most of what she was saying had no basis in verifiable fact, but she was sold on it, not because she read it in the scriptures, but because her brother had told her, and he’s in a stake presidency, which of course makes it true, and he heard it from his bishop, which makes it even truer.

    I have only two objections to this story:

    1. It didn’t answer the question.

    2. Even if it HAD answered the question, it still wouldn’t be true.

    Let’s look at this logically. If you were evil and wicked in this life, full of hate and bitterness, and you went around kicking dogs and beating people with sticks, then you are probably going to “spirit prison.” (If you ever said “no” to a missionary, then you can bet on it.) (If you also beat that missionary with a stick, then you can bet double on it.) And even if all your family and friends — also dog-kickers and with-sticks-people-beaters — are there, they are probably not going to be happy about it. I don’t think it’s going to be such a jolly, Chuck E. Cheese-esque affair.

    So what did the teacher have to say about all this? He said, “Well, I’m in no position to comment on that.” And I thought, “Neither was she, but that didn’t stop her.”

    In a BYU ward, this would not have happened. There would have been dozens of people ready to swoop upon this woman and point out that most of what she said could not be proven by the scriptures to be true OR false, and so it therefore shouldn’t have been said at all without clearly identifying it as personal opinion. Perhaps this woman would have been tarred and feathered as well.

    In a BYU ward, you have a high concentration of returned missionaries, many of whom, despite dressing and talking exactly alike (“Fetch, dude!”), are often very different from one another. For example, if someone says something that is contrary to something Elder Bruce R. McConkie once wrote, there will be a group — the Bruce-ites — that will reject that person and point out what Elder McConkie said about it, and they will assume that the matter is therefore closed. “Elder McConkie wrote more books than any other general authority; therefore his opinions are more valid than anyone else’s,” that seems to be these people’s position.

    On the other side, you have the anti-Bruce-ites: people who got tired of having to explain Elder McConkie’s blunt and occasionally puzzling statements to investigators and trouble-making less-active members, and so they finally decided to simply reject everything Elder McConkie said, including statements as seemingly harmless as “The sun rises in the east” and “Please pass the salt.” (“That was only his opinion,” these people will say defensively.)

    On yet a third side, you have people who will chuckle and say, “We’re getting into some pretty deep doctrine here. I don’t think it’s necessary to my salvation for me to know that.” These people will even say this during the announcements at the beginning of class, and when roll is being taken. These are people who, when they were missionaries, read the LaVell Edwards biography during their personal study time, and who think “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it” is a scriptural quotation, and whose idea of a heavy gospel conversation is an exchange of J. Golden Kimball stories and a round of “Church Film Trivia” (“Which sister missionary in ‘On the Way Home’ is prettier?”) (Answer: The blonde one.).

    And so this goes on for a while, and eventually you’ve gained either a stronger testimony of something, or a headache. Hopefully it’s the former, but if there are any screaming babies, you can bet it will be the latter.

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