The Church of No Content - A strange visit to Temple Square

Tal Bachman Aug 2012

A funny thing happened to me on the way to Logan the other day...

I'm out on a camping adventure trip with three of my kids; and since they are too young to know anything about Mormonism (they were young when I left), I thought they might find a tour of the temple and the Beehive House interesting. We were heading out to Utah anyway to visit relatives anyway, so why not?

It was a strange experience. The first weird thing was that, unlike in the past, there were no missionaries waiting by the front gates to volunteer to escort visitors on a walkaround tour (which is what I thought would be interesting for the kids). So, assuming they were all just busy, I popped into the new visitor's centre to ask if there were missionaries who would take us around on a tour. The greeter didn't seem to have any idea of what I was talking about, which was another weird thing. Finally, two sister missionaries showed up, and, assuming that the kids would now get to hear about the interesting details of how the tabernacle and temple were constructed, or even some of the interesting historical details of the pioneer journey west, I figured it would be an interesting half hour.

To my surprise, there was nothing like the informative chats of yesteryear; the sister missionaries seemed to have absolutely no clue about how the temple and tabernacle were built, or designed, or any stories about them, or anything about the pioneer journey west. The one thing they did know was that the tabernacle benches were made of pine, but were painted so as to look like oak (I refrained from mentioning that that wouldn't be the last time the church would try to obscure the truth for purposes of public image :). But other than that, there was virtually no content.

Maybe that was just a bit of bad luck, I thought. After all, there are always dud missionaries around. But then, I thought about how the Beehive House chat had changed. For decades, the tour there freely acknowledged that Brigham Young was a polygamist, and noted that many of his wives lived next door in the Lion House. Now, the chat (mis)represents Brigham Young as a monogamist, married only to Lucy Decker (we did the Beehive House tour right before Temple Square). Mentions of deeper, or currently less palatable, aspects of Mormon life and doctrine have been erased.

And then I remembered hearing about how, some years ago, they eliminated the old six-part missionary discussions - which were nothing if not concisely content-rich - in favour of allowing missionaries to just kind of teach their own versions of what they thought Mormonism was all about. Knowing just how shockingly ignorant of Mormon doctrine and history missionaries tended to be, from my *own* mission experience (where precisely for this reason, I always insisted that missionaries in my zones follow the written discussions closely), it has been impossible for me to see that change as anything other than another effort at removing content from Mormonism (or whatever "Mormonism" is supposed to be anymore).

And then, I remembered the changes to the gospel doctrine manuals over the years. Sixty years ago, teachers would use resources like Joseph Fielding Smith's "Answer to Gospel Questions", in which all sorts of things would be discussed, with depth and obvious earnestness. By the time I left the church nine years ago, the adult Sunday School manual had become so unbelievably vapid, so boring, so content-light, that I almost couldn't in good conscience use it as a guide in my lessons (I was the gospel doctrine teacher). Littered with passages like, "This scripture has shown us that tithing is important, and explains why. Is tithing important? Why?", they seemed designed for small children, or maybe mentally handicapped people. For adults, they seemed calculated almost to inhibit thought, rather than encourage it.

And then, of course...there was Monson, the current head honcho. In a half century as a Mormon General Authority, I mused to myself, he literally had never said one interesting thing, ever, and had never even taught one single doctrine. There was no *content* there - only mindless, maudlin, Readers Digest-like (and usually self-aggrandizing) yarns. He was even worse than Hinckley, for whom "content" at least meant telling women how many earrings they could wear in one ear. Although, come to think of it, it was Hinckley who tried to erase the entire doctrine of eternal progression, and who erased from the priesthood/Relief Society manuals any mention that Brigham Young, or John Taylor, or Wilford Woodruff, were polygamists. Their "biographies" said only that they married one wife each.

My mind raced; I couldn't think of one single area of Mormon belief or doctrine which hadn't been dumbed down over the years, or hadn't had content removed, or where the burden of belief hadn't been lightened. And the zero-sum constraint for Mormonism appeared pretty clearly: on one end of the spectrum, there was "Content"; on the other, there was "Believability"; and the more you moved toward "Content", the less believable Mormonism was (and the less believable it was, the fewer members you'd have). Conversely, the more believable you wanted the religion to be, the less content it had to have (to a point). There was some optimal point there, which - it seemed - the Mormon church had been trying to pin down, where there was *just* enough content to keep members convinced that Mormonism was an actual religion (instead of just the loyalty cult it actually is), so that they would stick around and believe and support the thing, but not so much content that members couldn't believe in it anymore, and bail.

Anyway, we finished the strange, awkward, content-free "missionary tour" of Temple Square, and drifted through the new visitor's centre, and I wondered how long it would be before the spectrum point moved too far, and people started leaving the church (now run by ninety year olds, instead of the young, charismatic cult leader Joseph Smith) not because they concluded it was a fraud, or because it "stifled their individuality", but just because...there was hardly anything there anymore, and it was all just...really, really boring. Just like the Salt Lake Temple visitor's tour.

Re: The Church of No Content
What is the church's stance on Eastasia? :-)
Devoted Exmo
Re: The Church of No Content
Yep. The Corporation of Joseph Smith of Latter-Day Fungible Beliefs.

Re: The Church of No Content
Well said. All that is left up top is PR & Marketing.

Re: The Church of No Content
Vanilla Religion;

One Size Fits ALL!

Rowell back
The less content they have, the more temples they must have!
Excellent analysis of the believability and content scale.

If the sum of both equals 100, then theoretically content should be 50 and believability should be 50 and there is balance. However as Tal mentioned, content has slowly been stripped away line upon line and precept upon precept leaving a gap in the balance. This is where Hinckley realized something must be done to fill the gap.

This is where temples come in to play. Build more and the members can fill the gap with temple attendance. Now the scale consists of three parts. As content decreases, temple attendance increases believability to the point content only needs to exist in small portions. Now the scale reads 70 believability, 20 temple attendance, 10 content. As time goes on temple attendance can rise to 45, believability to 45 and content remains low at 10. This allows for the testimony treadmill to remain humming along efficiently for generations.

The internet and information age are adding content back into the equation thus reducing believability and temple attendance. As Tal mentions above, content then over takes believability and inherently temple attendance evaporates very quickly. 100 units of content equals no members.

No wonder the church limits and tries very hard to reduce content! They have to in order for the system to remain in place.

SL Cabbie
Well, Maybe They Recognized You...
I mean they've got all kinds of facial recognition software, and hey, you were there one time with that Bill Maher guy...

Okay, just teasing...

Glad you're still stopping in and hoping you and your family are well...

They did the "downplay polygamy" approach a few years ago, and with the Romney campaign drawing all kinds of "intrusive publicity," I wouldn't be surprised if a "dumb down" culture has been adopted.

Re: The Church of No Content
Thanks for that, Tal. That actually helps explain to me why, when I see mormons apologizing and defending the church in comments sections of various web sites (Huffington Post comes to mind, but I see it everywhere), it appears that most of them have never heard of any of the wonkier doctrines and beliefs. It's because THEY HAVEN'T.

Maybe to some of us, the church is this terribly controlling cult, but perhaps to some of the newer members and younger generation mormons, this "mormonism light" nonsense just makes it all seem like a normal religion.

I dunno; what I can tell you is I've read some stuff written by self-proclaimed mormons online and I cannot believe they attended the same seminary I did. Clearly, what you are telling us is, it's not the same seminary and it's not the same church.

:: shrug ::

It's still a terribly controlling cult though.

Onmywayout . . . someday
Re: The Church of No Content
And yet apologists still continue to attack critics and doubters for being lazy and uneducated if they claim to be genuinely surprised by discovering uncorrelated Church history and doctrine.

Opie's Ghost
The church has turned into a touchy feely religion.
Less content. More touchy feely. I actually sort of miss the church I knew as a youth. I hardly recognize what it has morphed into now. I have nothing but disgust and contempt for the leaders of the church who pretend like this change has not occurred and that the church is the same as it was even 20 years ago.

It all just confirms to me that they know its a hoax.

Re: The Church of No Content
Great post. The vaneer pine bench pretty much sums up Mormonism. The surface can be made to look glossy and of worth, but scratch underneath the surface and it's just the same old cheap rubbish.

In fact, members that are fortunate to scratch beneath the surface and find out that not only is it pine and not the oak they had expected (and likely even discover it to be riddled with woodworm and decay) but are criticised for not just accepting the lies that were clearly told about the quality of materials used and the workmanship.

Re: The Church of No Content
As a missionary, I also taught the 6 pre-scripted discussions. It seems a lot of changes have occurred since then. It's interesting to see what is going on. It would not be hard to get the details out of church leaders or missionaries though by simply asking "what makes your church different than the rest?". Once you get the answers, I'd go back to them with more questions about their knowledge of the development of those doctrines or beliefs.

Is the church really changing itself to the point where none of that stuff about setting itself apart from the rest is of any importance any more in its efforts to convert people? Just go to church, make a friend, feel the spirit, get baptised and pay tithing... Nothing else matters. Sounds like it's all starting to defeat the whole purpose to begin with.

I'm all for the church distancing itself from JS and BY. But it also then makes it irrelevant. It's just another church. Another church that I don't believe in.

Re: The Church of No Content
See, if they had listened to my idea, and placed a stripling warrior honor guard in front of the church office building, people would be a whole lot more excited about Temple Square.

Re: The Church of No Content
I know the church has always gone by the "milk before meat" policy. I wonder if they're now switching to a new colostrum before milk policy. I have a feeling it'll all hit them like a wet fish slap to the face once they're in and endowed though. Things that make you go hmmmmm.

Those in charge are so scared of their own history...
...and those, like my liberal female mo friends think they're making a change from within are just not making any headway in the morg. Heavy sigh.

Yeah, all those rooms in the Beehive House were for "guests", right? ~wink wink~ And nothing secretive happens in the temple, it's a place of worship, right? ~wink wink~

I went to the Manti Temple Pageant with my teenage kids a few years back because some of their Mormon friends were participants. Both of my kids grew up nevermos and had no clue about the history behind the Book of Mormon. So on the drive there, I gave them "toto's brief story of the morg". During the pageant, my daughter got visibly sick thinking about the real history behind the Mormon story in contrast to what was being presented. Mostly, she was sick for her friends because she realized they believed what they were performing and she wanted them to wake up.

I hope you were able to give your kids the lowdown on some of the history that the tour guides weren't able to present.

Turkey Vulture
Re: The Church of No Content
Ever heard of Joel Osteen? That sh*t sells...

Chicken for the Soul Mormonism rules the day...feel good, happy talk BS

Re: The Church of No Content
This is a very good point. Thanks for making it.

Until correlation began in the 1960s, there was a pretty high level of content in Mormonism, and it seems to have appealed to a lot of people. But when the leadership thought that it was about to become a world religion, it developed a desire to be accepted and go mainstream, and the old doctrines (along with much of the history, like polygamy) came to be seen as embarrassments to be hidden away.

The church went corporate. It dispensed with anything that was interesting or fun, and decided on a brand identity centered around respectability and conformity (which, not incidentally, were the core of most large American corporations' desired identities during the late twentieth century, especially in fields like financial services). But the brand had little to do with the products that had grown the church: strong community, vibrant culture, and spiritual satisfaction.

When any company promotes its brand identity rather than pointing out the value of its product, its messages become dull, confusing, and ultimately irrelevant.

Mårv Fråndsen
Mormonism: We don't teach that anymore

this explains the plausible deniability of people like
Joanna Brookes. She is not delusional after all. She is a generation behind content.

Re: The Church of No Content
I could study faith for the rest of my life and still learn something new every day!!! lololololol, I want to rip peoples heads off when I hear this inane, ignorant, trite, moronic bleating of sheep.

Re: The Church of No Content
Without "content" there is no "contention". It's that simple. Everything is sweet, everyone gets along as long as there's nothing to really think about, everyone can just mindlessly feel good about everything instead.

Content is what caused the big DNA scare.

And all that horse business in the Book of Mormon.

And one prophet who claimed that God said one thing ...

While a later prophet claimed God said the opposite.

Every time someone starts talking about content it just causes big problems down the road -- Smith himself created most of the content problems: That Garden of Eden stuff, Kolob, men becoming Gods, Elephants tumbling around in submarines for 344 days, Christ in America, everyone going to heaven with secret handshakes....

For god sake everyone, stop thinking!

Just keep feeeeeeeling!

Re: The Church of No Content
Content!? WHAT content!?

All together now!

"Turn it off, like a light switch, just go "click", it's a cute little Mormon trick."

...."The Book of Mormon Musical"

Re: The Church of No Content
Luv that song, Zip, that's certainly the truth today, ain't it?

During my Sunstone phase, I actually found huge comfort in the early 'content' of the church, it seemed so sincere, so committed to a worthy way of life, especially the United Order and all it implied. I still tell my friends that the early church was INTERESTING in its craziness, there are reasons it appealed to so many, despite JS and his bullshit, despite BY and his dictatorship.

Today's church is as bland, as pointless, as empty, as stupid as mainstream american culture in general. Its a wonder it isn't more popular, really. Money, status, smug self-righteousness, the feeling of superiority, the disdain for the suffering of others (its their fault), the hatred of 'intellectuals' and deep thinking of any kind, the scapegoating and creation of enemies, the fascistic patriotism, the dominance of emotionalism. The 'Great Accomodation' has never really stopped, so mo-ism has followed the general american trend into barbarism and kitsch.

Mitt and Beck really are the epitome's of mo-ism today. I wonder what the early TBMs would of thought of these despicable characters. Would they have been admired (especially by the leaders and opportunists), or seen for the scum that they are by many of the regular mo's of that time? In reading the journals of my early ancestors, I don't think they were quite as sheeple as TBMs are now. But I may be wrong. Maybe the 'war against content' was always being waged, and now that war has largely been won. Vapidity rules, along with secret porn and heavy use of antidepressants...

dream weaver
Re: The Church of No Content
I think the war against content was always waged.
Isn't that essentially what caused Smith's death and William Law's fallo-out.
The original cover-ups of all kinds were always about content and disclosure.
We believe in paying tithing, fast offerings, building funds, missionary funds, and perpetual education funds; indeed we may say that we pay on our gross income the first Sunday of each month. We support Beehive Clothing, we shop Deseret book, we donate to DI, and hope to afford City Creek Mall. If ever there is anything shinny, expensive, exclusive, or tax exempt, we seek after these things.
Re: The Church of No Content
Actually, it's true that Mormons could study the faith every day for years. They are studying the faith they are given, the selected scriptures, the distorted history and many permutations of the pablum issued from Mormon podiums across the nation.

It's like oatmeal and it's many variations. I could eat it every day for a year and never duplicate it exactly. Unfortunately, I remain entirely ignorant of the world of alternate breakfasts, the Raisin Bran and Cheerios, pancakes, waffles and, scrambled eggs and meat.

They don't know what they don't know.


"Recovery from Mormonism -"