Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Mormons get a bad rap for having too many rules.  Well, maybe not a bad rap, necessarily (that comes from other things): for our rules we are often questioned and sometimes ridiculed.

This isn't an epiphany, of course; I've thought about it before.  I've been a Mormon my whole life, after all.  I'm okay with the rules (I'm calling the "commandments" from here on out; it works better in the argument).  I'm okay with the questions.  I'm not even particularly bugged by the the ridicule.  If you're unfamiliar with "Mormonism" or don't know a Mormon personally, here are a some of the most typical questions: "I get the no alcohol thing, but no coffee or tea?  Come on!" "No sex before marriage--really?  Get with the times, people!" "You go to church every day at 5:30 in the morning when you're a TEENAGER?" "Why can't girls hold the priesthood?" "You really have to go on a two-year mission for your church right in the middle of your college education?" and so on.  We have rules and commandments that govern all these and more.

Apparently, I am a person prone to embracing institutions known for their plenitude of rules and commandments:  I am also a English teacher and writer, after all, and where, outside of religion, are there more rules than within the nebulous borders of grammar?  Switching gears temporarily to this latter region--grammar--here is the biggest question I've encountered: "Why can't I break the rules when all my favorite authors do?"

The pat answer is generally, and this is what I've been told and tell my students, is, "When you know the rules, then you can break the rules."  Likely many of you have heard this same absolutely pompous, exclusive, tosh.

(Even though it's true.  Shh!)

Sort of that applies too to religion.  At least it offers context for the argument.

This issue specifically I was thinking about yesterday while working on the characters for my latest writing project and soon after completing my post at Mr. Center's Wall on dictionaries and active/passive "voices" (not the greatest example of my writing, but I think I make my point).  Why keep all these rules?  Why obey all these commandments?  Life would be so much easier without them!  Right?

The answer to the sample grammar question is simply explained: when you know the rules you can break the rules, because when you know the rules you understand the rules and have control over their subjects and are able to strategically break them for rhetorical effect.



The answer to the religion question (why so many commandments, and aren't so many of them totally irrational or counterproductive or arbitrary?) is a little trickier, because, as commandments, I have no intent to "strategically" break them.  I don't want to break them.

Ever (though, obviously, I'm human and frequently fail)!

I'd like to give two examples of such commandments, which, as a Mormon (member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), I obey, and which are among those most frequently questioned (but don't worry, this isn't going to be a big preach fest; I'm not proselytizing here):

We are commanded to pay a ten-percent tithe (which word, by the way, means one-tenth) on "all our increase;" we are also commanded to read and study the Book of Mormon in addition to the Bible and two other works, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

Have you ever heard the addage, "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it"?  Of course this is applicable in so many more places than just here, and certainly seems more appropriate to reading a book than shelling out ten cents on the dollar.  This latter one is often "knocked" particularly when people hear I still need--and more than ever, really--to keep this commandment despite the fact that I've got absolutely no money (unemployed, remember).  The tiny amounts that I do get from my temporary work and a few other sources must be tithed, and when you get right down to it, when there's absolutely no--and often less than no--extra, ten percent is a frickin' lot!

Why I do it is not the issue.  The issue is that I do it, and that I know why I do it.

Part of the grammar explanation applies ("when you know the rules you understand the rules"), and I'll twist it up a little bit here:

You can't understand the commandment, and thereby appreciate it, which you don't keep.  Here, now, it is nothing like grammar rules or school rules or the "Laws of the Land" (mostly) or whatever else.  This is a thing spiritual.  (But, like I said, I'm not getting into the why.)

It is so easy to rationalize my way out of religious obedience, and sometimes I have to remind myself: keeping the commandment reveals its benefit, no matter how easy it is to justify against it.  Why do I pay my tithing?  Why did I serve a mission?  Why do I read my Book of Mormon?  Well, I do it because I do.  When I don't, it's easy to forget why I ever did.  So I do it, and I remember, and things are better.  Better how?  You won't until you do.


  1. I think that Lutherans have an interesting understanding of this. In Lutheranism, the law completely doesn't apply. There aren't even really any rules beyond social convention. It's to reinforce the message that salvation is a free gift from God that human action can never merit. So the reason that you do things like tithe isn't to keep any rules, but is a sort of genuine act of thankfulness to God. After all, if you realize that you've been given life for eternity, you probably want to celebrate it; you want to love God and your neighbor. I think that really, whether the understanding of it as a rule or as ONLY a natural response is at the bottom of one's religion, the reaction is the same. If you didn't feel that God loved you, you probably wouldn't care about tithing, even if it is a rule. Kind of how kids don't keep rules that adults set down if they don't feel respect for/loved by them.

    (I have no idea how the Lutheran interpretation would apply to grammar.)

  2. There's a great reciprocity to commandment keeping: you do it because you love God, who blesses you for keeping it, besides the fact that He gave the commandment because He loves you and because keeping the commandment will make you happy, and in the process you love God even more.

    Almost makes you wish there were more commandments!