A Defense of Whining

I want to counter two common arguments against complaining. But first, a story:

When I was 10 years old, I took a gymnastics class one day a week after school, and my father picked me up on his way home from work. Since it was the 70s, he was in a carpool, and one day one of his carpool partners was driving when they picked me up from gymnastics. I felt very awkward about having someone besides my dad go out of his way to pick me up, and tried to get in the car as quickly as possible, so as to minimize the amount of trouble I was creating. Alas, in my haste, I managed to close the door on the tip of my thumb–just the very tip, quite painful, but not enough to draw blood or break bones. My dad’s friend (not a dad, not accustomed to waiting for kids to buckle seatbelts) was already pulling away, and I didn’t want to inconvenience him by asking him to stop. So I rode home–a 10- or 12-minute drive–with my thumb stuck in the door.

Now, I feel pretty confident that you will be chuckling now, and thinking, “what an idiot! why didn’t she just yell ‘ouch!'” And yet, when I mention things about the church or church culture that are the equivalent of having my thumb-tip stuck in the door, I’m regularly told that I shouldn’t “whine.” There are two basic arguments against whining: 1) if you don’t have a solution to offer, what good is it to point out the problem?; and 2) it could be worse. Both lines of reasoning are unsatisfying to me.

It would be nice, of course, if everyone who had a problem could also figure out and implement the solution to that problem. But in fact, things rarely turn out that way–sometimes we lack the wisdom and sometimes we lack the power to solve our own problems. (Sometimes, it’s true that we are just lazy and prefer whining to taking action, but I think that this is sufficiently often *not* the case that we ought not to assume it to be the general rule). Within the church, I’m very like my 10-year-old self–I look pretty competent, and I understand some things, but I don’t really understand everything. And, as a woman, I can expect not to be in the driver’s seat most of the time–I simply do not have the power to change many of the things that bother me, even if I have a solution I think would work. Moreover, in an organization that is run entirely from the top down, there simply aren’t many channels for me to propose solutions and have anyone listen. Whining is probably not the most constructive response to this situation, but I think it is, at least, an understandable one.

“It could be worse.” This is the ultimate platitude; it’s nearly always true, and it’s nearly always unhelpful and irrelevant. The fact that it is -30 in Minnesota today just doesn’t make -1 feel any warmer to me here in Massachusetts. (I take DKLs subsistence farmer standard to be a variant of this argument–“if things were worse, you wouldn’t be complaining about this. Since they’re not, you should not complain”). For whatever reason, human psychology is such that intellectual appreciation of the possibility of more pain does nothing whatever to alleviate or put present pain into perspective. Not only does the recognition of other people’s pain not help me, even the memory of my own past sufferings is insufficient to allay present woes. When I have a bad headache, no amount of trying to remember the pain of childbirth will help me calibrate the pain of the headache and suffer appropriately. People just aren’t built like that, and they will yell “ouch” when they shut their fingers in car doors. Unless, of course, we manage to put in place enough social sanctions that they will suffer their miseries alone and in silence until they break. I don’t think we should do that, in fact, I believe that we’re commanded not to: “And whether on member suffer, all members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” My children whine when they need attention or are somehow feeling unloved; perhaps we should welcome other people’s whining as a reminder to be more loving.

Comments

  1. The one problem with your argument is that it conflates Whining and telling of a problem into the same thing. In your door example, no one would fault you for saying “Ow, can you help me open the door?”. The whining would come in if you yelped about it for the next day. The difference lies in the communicative content and the purpose behind it. In the first example, the intent is to solve the problem, in the second the purpose is to vent.

    In the church setting, there are opportunities to bring problems to the attention of those in charge. Now I understand things don’t always change, and that leaders don’t always make the best decisions. (Ie my brother in law not being allowed to be baptized because he has downs syndrome). However, I get frustrated when I hear people chronically complain about the same issue without having taken steps to rectify it.

    That aside, I agree with your plea to be more compassionate to the problems that others have, but believe that there is a difference between whining and notifying of a problem.

  2. Kristine, nice post. Your comments make me think of the difference between unionized workers and non-union workers. Unionized workers have representation with management, have enforceable rights to run their own union affairs free of company interference, have bargained-for contractual rights against companies, and have formal grievance procedures they can use when they are wronged. Non-union workers have none of these resources, but of course they can always quit. No doubt that’s often what they’re told if they address complaints to management: “It’s a free country — you can quit tomorrow.”

    There is some resemblance between rank-and-file members and non-union workers. Church management fiercely defends its paternalistic role and is highly antagonistic toward any “member representation” outside of approved managerial (i.e., “line of authority”) channels. The wonder, I suppose, is that in the Church those in the line of authority actually are sincerely paternalistic much of the time, but they are still largely uninterested in (or are actively hostile to) anyone attempting to raise systemic (as opposed to personal) problems. And there is always an easy defense: “It’s a free country. If you don’t like the Church, you can leave tomorrow.”

    On the other hand, I recognize that analogy is a weak form of argument — most rank-and-file Mormons don’t really feel powerless, oppressed, or alienated. The institutional details may seem similar, but members don’t typically feel “unrepresented.” Some problems or complaints actually do percolate up to senior leaders and adjustments are made here and there. Could be worse (oops, can’t say that).

  3. john fowles says:

    perhaps we should welcome other people’s whining as a reminder to be more loving

    I wouldn’t argue with this premise; I am in wholehearted agreement. I wonder, however, if you see it as legitimate for someone who is satisfied with that which he or she cannot control (e.g. the will of God or how his Church is run by imperfect although well meaning leaders) to be irritated at a constant stream of “whining” about those very things. In other words, maybe we are justified in not welcoming other peoples’ whining. Often, when my kids are whining, it is not for a good reason but because they simply want to have things their way. I can honestly say that, as a three-year-old, my daughter has no idea what is best for her, and so giving her her way because she is whining about it would often not be the right course of action. In these cases, I can tell my three-year-old to “stop whining!” without (in my view) exposing myself to accusations of being less loving or being oppressive. Her whining to stay up late is not going to change my resolve to have her in her bed by bedtime, no matter how much she doesn’t like it. Her whining to have cookies for dinner is not going to change my resolve to have her eat her noodles and brocolli first before she has a cookie and if she doesn’t eat those as a precondition, she doesn’t get the cookie period. Because this is how I interact with my own kids, how am I to criticize the Church, which I believe is ultimately led by God, if certain things aren’t done my way at Church. Although I am a fully faithful member with a testimony, I wouldn’t mind reducing the block of meetings down to two hours or even one hour. Or I wouldn’t mind this or that policy change (any number of things, you might be surprised). But I realize that even though I may not think it is ideal, like my daughter who doesn’t think it is ideal to go to bed at the appointed bedtime, I need to do it the way that has been appointed by those with the authority to make such policies, and, like my daughter whining to stay up late, my whining just won’t do any good but will only poison relations and feelings.

  4. john fowles says:

    I should clarify that I mean that I agree with you to the extent that we need to take things like this as a reminder to be more loving. But, as my comment above shows, I do not agree that such a view will or should lend legitimacy to whining or should de-legitimize people who are irritated at whining.

  5. john fowles says:

    Dave, does your analogy extend to comparing the “dissent” in the Church to unionized workers, which would include all the corruption, bullying, coersion, and fees of union membership?

  6. John F, I think your analogy is even weaker than mine! Here I thought I did a pretty good job of qualifying my analogy in the last paragraph of my original comment, where I said most rank-and-file Mormons don’t really feel powerless, oppressed, or alienated. As for “dissent” in the Church, it is not institutionalized, so likening it to unionizing is not really supportable, I think.

  7. john fowles says:

    Dave, I was just wondering. Now I have an answer: you didn’t intend your analogy also to apply to the “dissent,” only to the “rank-and-file” members who are like non-unionized workers.

  8. John F, as long as you bring it up . . . Kristine’s post starts a story suggesting some Mormons have something to complain about. A subset of that group, the “whiners,” are those who actually voice their complaints. I think “dissenters” are, in turn, a subset of the “whiners” who actually publish (in one form or another) their complaints. Finally, there might be “organizers,” a subset of “dissenters” who take the next step to organize opposition, kind of like the unionizing you referred to. While there is some published dissent, I see little or no organizing going on. As I see it, people who are that unhappy don’t have to organize, they can just exit.

  9. That is an intersting idea Dave, but I wonder if saying the average rank-and-file member doesn’t really feel powerless, oppressed, or alienated seems to imply that were all a big happy family. When in fact we are hemoraging our young people, and half or more of us (higher for minorities) are inactive. Sure much of this probably has to do with sin and lack of faith, personal weakness, and whatever else, but it seems reasonable that much of it also may have to do with feelings of powerlessness, oppression, and alienation.

  10. john fowles says:

    Dave wrote As I see it, people who are that unhappy don’t have to organize, they can just exit.

    That leads you back to your original observation that “It’s a free country. If you don’t like the Church, you can leave tomorrow.”

  11. “If you don’t like the Church, you can leave tomorrow”

    ….and go straight to hell.

    Isn’t there room for people to want to make the church a better place, but yet still want to remain part of the Church?

  12. Steve,
    Isn’t this the point where somebody pulls out the old “steadying the ark” arguement? I never liked that story.

  13. john fowles says:

    Steve wrote Isn’t there room for people to want to make the church a better place, but yet still want to remain part of the Church?

    I think there is definitely room for such. But does making the Church a better place also entail inquiring as to whether we should really claim “One True Church” status or that the BoM is a literal ancient record translated by the power of God? It is issues such as these that raise eyebrows among “conservatives” in the Bloggernacle, I would guess, because it is unclear how repeated assertions that this is not or cannot be the “One True Church” or that the BoM is not or cannot really be an ancient record given to JS by Moroni contribute to making the Church a “better place.” I assume that Kristine was alluding both to such discussions and to policy-oriented discussions in her post about whining. The policy-oriented discussions also touch on such issues because policymaking and authority overlap in the Church. And in the Church “authority” connotes the added dimension of acting in the name of God and under his mandate as someone called by him through his servants already in authority to make policy. It creates a fine line situation in which whining teeters between being utterly useless and downright offensive. An interesting question would be what the appropriate channels for whining are and how whining can be done most effectively so as to effect legitimate policy change (i.e. that doesn’t just represent someone’s alternative preferences of method) without affronting authority or the idea that those in authority know better based on access to the divine as a part of their stewardships.

  14. Tom Manney says:

    Random John,

    You can’t criticize the steadying the ark story. It’s Biblical! It’s written in stone! So what if it contradicts New Testament principles of charity and going the extra mile. So what if it denies essential human traits of creativity and independent thinking. Steadying the ark is the trump card, to be played whenever the rank and file start getting a little restive. Don’t mess with the trump card, man. I would hate to think I have to do more than just sit idly by noting problems but feeling relatively secure that there’s nothing I should do about them.

    Anyway, this topic reminds me of how my mother-in-law always hated the story Pres. Hinckley told about fifteen years ago about the girl who was orphaned in the Martin handcart company and had her legs amputated, “but she never complained.” My mother-in-law always thought that story was ridiculous and unbelievable. “But she never complained” has become something of an obnoxious reminder to her that it’s never enough in this church. My MIL is a more faithful, devout member than I am (after all, she’s got her priorities in the right order, being more concerned about the pernicious evils of r-rated anything where, silly me, I’m more worried about issues like selfishness, materialism, poverty and unjust wars), but she reserves the right to complain and complain often.

    Ironically, as a descendant of that little girl, I always grew up admiring her, and to my mother-in-law’s chagrin, her eldest grandchild (my daughter) is named after Ellen (Nellie) Pucell Unthank. I don’t think it matters whether Nellie ever complained, though. I wouldn’t blame her if she did, and I would be impressed if she didn’t.

    For me, the issue isn’t whether I can complain about the way the Church is run, but whether I can complain to God about the way the world is run, or, for that matter, whether I can complain to Him about certain aspects of my life. I used to complain to him often, but lately I’ve come to see that, for me personally, it’s more character-building not to complain, but to just forge ahead. I’m sure a similar argument can be made against complaining to the church about the church, but I’m not sure if I would agree with it on that level.

  15. David King Landrith says:

    Kristine,

    In defense of my subsistence level argument, this is not just an argument to help put things in perspective. And it is by no means an argument that there are no legitimate grievances. The idea is that you shouldn’t use your spare time to accumulate them.

    If you concentrate on it hard enough, you can make a paper cut hurt as badly as an amputation. The idea isn’t that paper cuts are painless, but that there’s no reason to spend energy on things that are best ignored.

    That said, I’m not against complaining, per se. I am railing against whining at every oppurtunity. I’m sorry that sometimes people feel alone. Sometimes I do, too. That’s life. Get used to it and things will go a lot more smoothly.

    I love your car story. Way to hang in there!

    My advice (though it’s not like anybody asked): Never let anybody catch you trying (or sweating or hurting or bleeding). Never take yourself seriously, and expect the same from others. And be a good sport—to a fault.

  16. Good points, all. Rereading my post, the ending seems overbroad and more than a little unfair–it’s hard to argue that one shouldn’t be more loving!

    However, if anyone can make that argument, and make it well, it’s john fowles :) ! John, I think you’re right, of course, that some whining is like your three-year-old’s, and doesn’t deserve to be rewarded by a change. Still, there’s the problem of who gets to judge whether a complaint is legitimate or not. Generally, it’s the person who is in power, and that presents a problem. If any complaint the powerful don’t want to pay attention to can be labeled whining and dismissed, real problems fester, people are hurt, and stupid policies stay in place longer than they need to. Most of my friends who are troubled by the things that trouble me about the church have left–they’re no longer whining, but I can’t help wondering if that’s a loss to the church, as well as to them.

    My children, thankfully, are not especially whiny, but when they do whine, their whining is often a symptom of a real problem–they are overtired, hungry, feeling neglected, worried about something that happened at school. Even if I’m not going to give them what they think they want, good parenting entails paying attention to the emotional/spiritual content of the whining, even if the substance turns out to be an issue the parent won’t give ground on. I know there’s some danger in extrapolating too much theology from hymns, but there’s that line in “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”: “he lives to hear my soul’s complaint.” I’m honestly not sure how this ought to translate into our efforts to emulate Christ–I think it’s possible that it suggests leaders ought to be more patient with members’ complaints; or maybe it’s just that we members need to be better at succoring one another and tending to the inevitable bruises when one of bumps up against institutional reality.

    [An aside: John, I don't think you can find "repeated assertions that this is not or cannot be the "One True Church" or that the BoM is not or cannot really be an ancient record given to JS by Moroni" here, especially not going unchallenged. I dare you to find some. You can e-mail them to me and I'll post them.]

    Jay, what if I’d said “please stop so I can open the door” and the driver kept going? Would continuing to whimper be whining, or still a legitimate effort to articulate my trouble? In an institution as big as the Church, it’s likely that individual voices are going to take a long time to be heard. And the Church seems sometimes to take pains to let people know they *won’t* be heard–sending back letters to GAs, etc. Yes, if they didn’t, the Brethren would possibly be inundated with complaints; it may be that this is necessary gatekeeping for the institution. But it should come as no surprise, then, that the little folks at the bottom of the stack (I just read Yertle the Turtle with my 2nd grader) will continue to make noise.

    Tom, the steadying the ark story is a Zen koan for me–I cannot make sense of it, but I come back to it over and over and over.

    DKL–if you thought the car story was good, I should tell you about the birth of my daughter; she was very nearly born in the car because my labor wasn’t quite typical (contractions never settled into a really regular pattern) and I didn’t want to bother anyone (including my sleeping husband) when I wasn’t absolutely positive I was close to delivery. She was born 6 minutes after we walked into the delivery room. I can never decide to be proud of how tough I was, or embarrassed to have been such an idiot.

  17. DKL,

    I just can’t lay off your subsistence-level argument. I get your (good) point when you say things like “there’s no reason to spend energy on things that are best ignored”–but I just can’t get past the idea that things are best ignored unless you would pay attention to them if you were a subsistence level farmer. OK–I won’t revisit the topic again–you (and the other three people who read the last of the other thread) have heard my thoughts before.

  18. Bob Caswell says:

    “I don’t think you can find…especially not going unchallenged…”

    So Kristine, does your second thought here retract your first one or is there something more cryptic going on?

    I find more truth in the second thought, but that’s assuming “unchallenged” means that the conservative bloggers gave their standard response of we’re-talking-about-this-again-why? (see John Fowles comment above for a reiteration) more so than offering some sort of counter information explaining exactly how JS really did literally translate the BOM.

    For the record, I still haven’t heard much of a good answer to the conservatives’ question.

  19. David King Landrith says:

    Be proud of how tough you were! First of all, waiting for the baby to come in the hospital is boring and doesn’t add much value to the birthing experience. Second, whether you make it to the hospital is not quite as important as Doctors imply—people used to deliver babies in caves. (But just to clarify: having to deliver your baby in a cave would indeed create a legitimate grievance.)

    Mathew, you keep stating my position in forms like “that things are best ignored unless you would pay attention to them if you were a subsistence level farmer.” This is a statement that I’ve tried repeatedly to repudiate. My formulation would be (drawing on your words), “that grievances are best ignored unless you would pay attention to them if you were a subsistence level farmer.”

  20. Bob, there have been discussions here of whether or not the Book of Mormon is accurate in every historic detail and speculation about the process of translation–asking the questions is *not* the same as asserting that the Book of Mormon is not “historical” (which is a pretty meaningless claim without some clarifying discussion of what is meant by historical). There was recently a link to an article which mentioned that some people who are not members of the church find talk of “the only true church” offensive, and (maybe, though I don’t remember any bloggers actually saying this) the suggestion that we could be careful in how we say things to avoid giving offense–there was no assertion by anyone here that the church is not the one true church. I challenged John to find specific assertions because I see it happening over and over again that opening up the question is perceived (by John and other conservatives) as equivalent to taking the hard-line position that is whatever the opposite of a “conservative” viewpoint would be. My sense is that there is no way one could discuss questions about, say, Book of Mormon historicity in a manner that would not provoke an angry defensive response–apparently *only* testimony-bearing and apologetics are acceptable forms of discourse. I don’t think that’s fair or productive.

    And hi, Bob–nice to see you in these parts again!

  21. Kristine Said “Jay, what if I’d said “please stop so I can open the door” and the driver kept going? Would continuing to whimper be whining, or still a legitimate effort to articulate my trouble? ”

    Again, I think it depends on the way in which the notice is given.
    But their is a difference between your car analogy and complaining about church problems. in the car example there does not seem to be any reason why you thumb should remain in the door. However, in the church many (not all) times there IS a reason why things are the way they are, IE in the ensign redesign formatting was changed to allow consistency across different languages for a growing church.

    I understand your concern about getting voices to be heard. There are two reasons why we shouldn’t be allowed to go straight to GAs to solve problems at the local level. First is the practical problem you alluded to. There is simply no way for GAs to handle all the burdens. Second is our church is a hierarchy based on the priesthood. That has a certain order and structure built in. As this is a foundational belief, we should reconcile ourselves to working within its structures.

    I understand that this can cause problems, heartache and difficulties. I refer again to the case of my Brother in Law. by BIL has Down’s syndrome, and because of an early hearing problem does not speak particularly well. Besides this communication impediment he is fairly high functioning. He attends school, shows horses (won nationals!) and babysits his nephews.

    My in laws, generally pretty active folk (though stake conference is just vacation right?), didn’t particularly like the way my BIL was being treated in the ward. At age 12 the Bishop would not allow my BIL to attend young men’s, either on sunday or during the weekly activities. They wanted him to continue in primary. Now my Father in law was somewhat upset with this. Not that my BIL would cause any problems, but He had offered to attend young men’s with michael to help with any burden my BIL might cause. MY FIL saw no reason that my BIL could not attend Scouts when they were doing activities appropriate for his situation (ie playing basketball, touring the prison, doing service etc) or sitting in a lesson. I always thought it was a disservice to the other young men not to expose them to people with disabilities.

    Up until this point my experience with priesthood leaders was pretty positive. Yeah there were stories from other missionaries on my mission, from my Uncle about his mission president, etc., But i kind of dismissed this, as most of the time I was able to see the other side of the coin.

    What do you do in a situation like this? They talked with the bishop, who questioned my father in law’s temple worthiness! They talked with the stake president who agreed with my FIL, but recommended he go back to the bishop to work this out. Everyone, including the bishop’s counselors, seemed to agree with my In laws except the bishop.

    The breaking point came when the bishop called my in laws in for an interview. Prior to this he caught them in the halls and had a stern talk with my FIL. My in laws did not attend theinterview. The bishop then came by in the middle of the day and wanted to interview my MIL alone. My MIL did not think this was appropriate and asked him to come by when my FIL was at home. This was apparently the melting point. So what did my in laws do? Well they went to church with my sister (who lived in the ward next door), until the bishop was released.

    I think this story doesn’t necessarily support my argument, but I do think it illustrates some of the complexities involved.
    What i think my in laws did right is to try and discuss it with the bishop and then the stake presidency. He didn’t complain to his home teaching families, his neighbors etc. What I think he probably didn’t do right is discuss it with the bishop in the best way. He is a bit of a stubborn hot head, and the bishop is a bit of an old hard liner (early seventies etc).

    So i think that this situation illustrates my POV on grievences within the church.

    1) We should not “suffer in silence” necessarily. We should Calmly bring grievences to our leaders, presenting our problem in a way that illustrates why it bothers us. Crying HELP alone doesn’t do it many times.

    2) If we are offended or hurt we should ask the Lord to give us the peace and presence of mind so that we may effectively communicate in a humble manner.

    3) We should not create bad feelings or disharmony by sharing our story with everyone we know. (ok I don’t think sharing my in laws story counts because the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Or maybe you can just call me Pot Black.)

    4) Once the problem is over we should not continually rehash and revoice the problem. Again we should strive to create a spirit of harmony and community.

    And another side note, I do think that there is a big difference between concerns regarding administration and concerns regarding doctrine. The lord has said that he will not suffer modern day prophets to lead us astray. Thus we can trust the doctrine given by the prophet and apostles. However, i don’t think that a concern over the location of the latest activity rises to the same level as doctrine.

  22. john fowles says:

    I mentioned the “One True Church” and BoM historicity issue as examples because I thought it would be non-controversial that these two topics have been oft-discussed here and elsewhere in the Bloggernacle with “liberals” generally arguing that there is little or no justification for the One True Church claims (either out of a sort of agnosticism on the issue or from the position that it is offensive to others to insist on One True Church principles) and that, Palmer-like, the BoM, although perhaps vaguely inspired, is not or cannot be or might not be an actual historical record that was translated in the way that JS said it was while conservatives more or less defend the “party-line” on these issues. The reason I used these examples was that I was trying to discuss and raise the issue that, if such inquiries figure into this discussion of whining, it is questionable how such inquiries go towards an effort to make the Church a “better place” rather than just challenging doctrinal ideas. This was actually only tangentially related to whining about mundane policies of the Church, which I gather was more the focus of your original post. Still, I was and am curious as to your view of how the doctrinal whining, e.g. on One True Church and BoM historicity grounds, fits into this paradigm of accepting whining out of an effort to show increased love.

    (Also, I wasn’t placing the substantive position taken against One True Church doctrine and BoM historicity into question. I understand both that there are differing views on this question and those views themselves; I was just wondering about the place of such inquiries in this discussion of whining, and if they do belong here, how they could be construed as done in an effort to make the Church a better place.)

  23. John, don’t ascribe those views to us here at BCC. I don’t think we espouse them, “liberal” though we may be. Quotes like “Palmer-like” are probably meant to be barbs, but they’re not accurate.

  24. I would also point out that “doctrinal whining” could mean an undue insistence on any doctrinal point, including a more conservative view. Insisting that the BoM took place in Central America, for example, and repeatedly complaining against those who think otherwise, could be seen as doctrinal whining.

  25. I must take issue with the oft spoken but shaky proposition that conservatives toe the church party line while liberals raise a raucus. In the spirit of all good whining I would simply like to state that if conservatives toe the party line how do we deal with all the fundamentalists (conservatives) still within the church and excommunicated who seem to have problems with the party-line post 1890 or sometimes 1844 or sometimes 1916. And though I make this claim with no empirical data whatsoever, I would venture that more “conservatives” have been excommunicated then “liberals” (note the entirety of Colorado City). I realize that I am making a substantive response to a non-substantive post (I realive the liberal jabs were mere examples for purposes of delving into whining) but I thought as long as we were on the subject I should go ahead and whine.

  26. Maybe I’m misreading the thrust of the discussion, but I think “whining” and “doctrinal whining” are two entirely separate topics. “Whining,” as originally addressed by Kristine, seems to refer to practices or cultural issues that are (for one reason or another) problems. Talking about such problems might sometimes help identify and resolve them, hence her defense of “whining.”

    “Doctrinal whining,” on the other hand, is just a clever term referring to the kind of apologetic sparring that goes on all the time in discussions of Mormon doctrine and history. Of course we can discuss Mormon doctrine and history — that’s conversation, not “whining.” If you want to stretch the term that far, I suppose I could label half of what we hear at Conference as “leadership whining” about why rank-and-file Mormons don’t work harder, pay more, and complain less. But that’s probably a misuse of the term “whining.”

  27. john fowles says:

    Dave wrote Maybe I’m misreading the thrust of the discussion, but I think “whining” and “doctrinal whining” are two entirely separate topics.

    This might be very true. I noted in my own comments that I didn’t know whether doctrinal whining figured into this or not and that I suspected Kristine was more interested in discussing whining about more mundane policy issues.

    Steve wrote John, don’t ascribe those views to us here at BCC.

    I have a hard time believing that you and Kristine find my observation about those two issues to be controversial. I don’t have time to search through the archives to find the numerous discussions about things like BoM historicity and the often-expressed views that perhaps the BoM is not really a “history” but rather an inspired text of some kind. But, really, I was not trying to be controversial or to “ascribe” views to permanent bloggers at BCC that I haven’t legitimately observed through the course of participation here.

    I guess my question to you, Steve, is whether you really find my observation to be inaccurate about some of the views regarding e.g. BoM historicity that have been expressed on this site?

  28. Dave’s right, these are very different things that probably deserve their own threads.

    And yes, John, I find your generalization to be inaccurate. You may be close to the mark with regards to what some comments may have said or something, but overall I don’t think you’re right.

  29. Bob Caswell says:

    I like where this is going and would hate to see it disappear because we need a new post. Hmm… Maybe I’ll have to fix that in the next day or two because I still haven’t heard much of a reason as to how the whining that doesn’t seem to be defendable (i.e. the one Kristine doesn’t talk about) could be defendable.

    But at the same time, I’m very intrigued by Dave’s “leadership whining”, which also needs to be examined.

  30. john fowles says:

    The leadership whining is an interesting topic. On the one hand, Dave observes (neutrally?) that it happens. On the other hand, much of the discussion in the Bloggernacle seems to focus on peoples’ discontent with leadership whining in the sense that they would prefer the leadership whining to address topics that in their opinion are not emphasized enough. Dave mentioned a few areas of leadership whining. But Gordon Smith, for example, often posts at T&S on topics related to the absence of leadership whining on certain topics, e.g. Latter-day Saints are not welcoming of minorities, or Latter-day Saints are not generous enough with fast offerings (two relatively recent examples). Justin Butterfield and others continually return to Blacks and the Priesthood with posts that imply, if not state directly, that we don’t have enough leadership whining about that issue.

  31. “I don’t have time to search through the archives to find the numerous discussions about things like BoM historicity and the often-expressed views that perhaps the BoM is not really a “history” but rather an inspired text of some kind. But, really, I was not trying to be controversial or to “ascribe” views to permanent bloggers at BCC that I haven’t legitimately observed through the course of participation here.”

    And yet you apparently have time to go running around through the virtual stacks of the Bodleian library to research the possible veracity of some obscure pseudo-prophecy.

    If you’re going to say things like “you people don’t believe in the Book of Mormon or believe that this is the true church” then you ought to be prepared to back up your accusations with a quote or two. My point is that you are incredibly sloppy about reading what any of us actually *say*–you skim two sentences and then start arguing against some caricature of an apostate view. I’m saying either cite specific examples or else quit saying that people here have asserted that this “is not or cannot be the One True Church.” You must know that such an accusation is offensive to a believing Mormon, and regardless of whether or not you consider our beliefs Mormon enough for you, I have repeatedly characterized myself as a believing Mormon, as have other bloggers here. Your sloppy characterizations of our views are extremely offensive.

    And no, I wasn’t thinking of doctrinal issues in my original post, just practical ones, though, of course, as you note, they often overlap.

  32. john fowles says:

    Kristine wrote, If you’re going to say things like “you people don’t believe in the Book of Mormon or believe that this is the true church” then you ought to be prepared to back up your accusations with a quote or two.

    I’m not saying that you don’t believe in the Church or in the BoM. I’m just noting that there have been discussions in which BoM historicity is doubted even though the BoM is accepted as somehow inspired despite that fact. I think you are over reacting to these two examples I chose. As Dave has noted, it was off topic anyway (although I wasn’t trying to derail the thread, just wondering whether that type of thing was included).

  33. john fowles says:

    Kristine wrote And yet you apparently have time to go running around through the virtual stacks of the Bodleian library to research the possible veracity of some obscure pseudo-prophecy.

    Okay, point well made. That issue over on the other thread was just interesting to me, not because I believe the prophecy or particularly want to believe it, but I had never read that BYU Studies article before and had some comments on it. I should have posted them to my own blog, but I thought that would border on poaching and thought it was worth it to contribute here.

  34. Matt Evans says:

    Kristine, have you read “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck? It was the book that most influenced me when I was in high school, largely for the book’s first 50 pages dealing with this topic.

    Maybe I should write a post . . .

  35. Yes, I have read it, and yes, you should do a post.

  36. Adam Greenwood says:

    “it seems reasonable that much of it also may have to do with feelings of powerlessness, oppression, and alienation. ”

    Churches that have tried to be open, democratic, responsive, welcoming, etc. (think the United Church of Christ commercials) hemmorhage a much greater number of youth and have much higher rate of inactives. This is no reason to be complacent, but it does make me think that the *major* solution to inactivity isn’t trying to make the church more democratic, open and responsive to complaints, etc.

    My real disagreement (besides the one mentioned by Jay S. in the very first comment) is that the church doesn’t seem very Us and Them to me. We are the hierarchy, and the hierarchy is us.

  37. “We are the hierarchy, and the hierarchy is us.”

    Uh, speak for yourself, male one.

  38. John Fowles:

    I don’t know anyone other than me who has suggested that the Book of Mormon *may* not be historical, and that the Church isn’t the one true Church in the same way it’s portrayed in Fast and Testimony meeting. Kris is spot-on – you are the Supreme Bloggernacle Master of the Straw Man. We’ll have an award and certificate sent off to you.

    You repeatedly respond to some of the more extreme things I say, then ascribe it to “liberals”. Not only is this offensive as Kristine points out, it makes me think you don’t have a valid response to the real issues some other liberals bring up, so you respond to unmade arguments that you think everyone can get behind – “Hey, you guys say the Church isn’t the One True Church!” You build the straw man, then instead of knocking it down, you pin a label to it so everyone else will know they can’t take it seriously.

  39. Yeah — blame John H.! He’s the crazy one!!

  40. uh, that was sarcastic.

  41. Bob Caswell says:

    Someone give me a stick so I can poke john fowles in the eye! I’m part of this blog so I’m supposed to be offended too, right? No, but really, John H. and Kristine, I can be fairly “liberal” at times, but I don’t see how john fowles is so incredibly offensive unless, of course, you interpret his thoughts in the worst way possible, which is ironic since that’s what you accuse him of doing.

    This is the problem with blogging today… What ever happened, “that’s interesting, did you mean this… because if you meant this other thing that could be offensive to some. But let’s talk about why you feel this way. We here at BCC are saddened when we feel mischaracterized…” instead of getting all huffy and puffy about it in the stereotypical liberal way, which makes people stereotype us all the more!

    P.S. And someone please remind me of blog etiquette again. Why are we tiptoeing around conversations to do with different aspects of whining with the excuse of, “be careful, this should be another thread?” Is the author in charge of deeming material “allowed?” Because that would explain Kristine’s use of material outside of the thread to slam john fowles in some way that I didn’t understand because I didn’t read whichever other thread.

  42. But Bob, John Fowles started it. Nothing he wrote is that offensive, of course; it’s all in the presentation. I bristled at his broad generalizations: “here and elsewhere in the Bloggernacle with “liberals” generally arguing that there is little or no justification for the One True Church claims … and that, Palmer-like, the BoM…”

    When someone posts a generalized remark like that on a blog for liberal-minded mormons, isn’t it natural to take it personally? John F.’s natural tendencies lead him to often put his case in such strong terms. We’re here as a check to such overstatements — and you should have been offended by them as well, even as the part-time liberal you are.

    As for blog etiquette, yes, it’s up to the post author to control the content on the thread. Otherwise, it’s called threadjacking. I haven’t seem much “tiptoeing,” though, just trying to be polite.

  43. john fowles says:

    John H., it is kind of you to take all the blame for the thoughts behind the observations I made, but I just don’t think it is accurate. I am torn about whether I actually should look through the archives of this blog to pull quotes about One True Church and BoM historicity (which were just two examples of the doctrinal whining that I was casually wondering about whether it fit into Kristine’s discussion of whining–another recent one I remember off the top of my head had to do with the three degrees of glory and whether that was to be believed or not). The reason I am resisting following up what I thought would be a non-controversial observation (and certainly one that I did not think to be offensive–I thought those who have been arguing such possibilities are conscious of what they were doing and not timid about it) with concrete quotes from this blog’s archives is because I wonder what use that will be. If I present quotes, are people going to concede that they have indeed discussed the possibility of the rudeness of One True Church terminology and of BoM non-historicy yet continued inspirational value? Or are they going to say that I am fighting straw men as the–how was it again?–Supreme Bloggernacle Master of the Straw Man? Maybe I am crazy and noone around here has discussed One True Church beliefs, BoM historicity, the authority of prophets, the three degrees of glory, or whatever.

    I am a little discouraged by John H.’s response to me. I wonder what I ever did to him to merit continually rude rejoinders from him in any given discussion. If I remember correctly, it stems from a thread over at T&S in which we took opposing views on the level of access to the divine that Latter-day Saint prophets have or do not have. Since then, it has been a rocky road. I accept it but think it is unfortunate.

    Steve, you say it is all in my presentation. Do you mean by that that if I still ended up on the opposite side of a doctrinal issue as you but somehow packaged it more nicely that my perspective would be more acceptable or discussable? That is the thing I have not been fully convinced of. I know there is a lot of room for improvement, and I do try when it occurs to me (such as times like this) but I am skeptical.

  44. John Fowles:

    My “Supreme” comment was a joke – an attempt at sarcasm. I should know better. Grrr… you’re not the first person I’ve apologized to recently. I’m out of blog practice. A few times I’ve tried to joke around and I’ve sounded nasty. I need to take a class, apparently.

  45. Bob Caswell says:

    Steve, john fowles,

    I suppose I’m a rare breed because I’m rarely offended by blanket statements about liberals or conservatives. But I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t have a favorite sports team, etc. Although I find myself more liberal than conservative many times, it’s hard for me to cling to some preconceived notion of what I should defend because I’m “liberal”. There are too many assumptions that are hard for me to accept as part of my calling in “liberal” life.

    But I will try to find the offense in john fowles’ comments, as a good liberal should. But Steve, how should we liberals answer the question of john’s, “Do you mean by that that if I still ended up on the opposite side of a doctrinal issue as you but somehow packaged it more nicely that my perspective would be more acceptable or discussable?” I’m hoping our answer is yes.

  46. JF: “Do you mean by that that if I still ended up on the opposite side of a doctrinal issue as you but somehow packaged it more nicely that my perspective would be more acceptable or discussable?”

    Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. This is a recurring issue. The answer is a definite, resounding “yes.”

  47. john fowles says:

    Okay.

  48. Bob, the point is that *none* of us wants to defend something just because it’s what a good liberal should defend. We all have different viewpoints on every issue John has raised, and it’s painful to be viewed as “a liberal,” rather than as “Kristine, who has a couple of outlandish ideas about women’s roles, and a bizarre interest in old Primary songs, and who goes to church every week and does 4 callings in her ward, and bears her testimony and tries really hard to understand and keep the commandments and writes smarmy prose about leaves and likes Nutella.” I wouldn’t presume to know what John thinks about Book of Mormon historicity unless he had told me what he thinks about it and I remembered what he said–he regularly speaks as though he knows what I, and Steve, and John H., and others think, regardless of whether we’ve ever told him or he can remember. That’s what got me steamed.

    John, thanks for keeping your cool. Reminds me of a Rudyard Kipling poem…

  49. Let me just say it again: presentation is everything. That’s something we all need to keep in mind, I think, because otherwise we can just end up baiting each other.

    To tie it back to Kristine’s post: to what extent is a whine just a poorly-articulated position?

  50. Bob Caswell says:

    Oh Kristine, I like Nutella too! Thanks for your latest, I understand now. If you, Steve, or John H. feel like john fowles “regularly speaks as though he knows…” what each of you specifically is thinking (or collectively) all the while misrepresenting you, then that is a problem. I guess it just wasn’t obvious to me that john fowles was picking on any of you specifically rather than saying “liberals… this” or “liberals…that”. But obvious or not to Bob, if any of the three of you feel that way (misrepresented personally or whatever), then yes, john fowles should work things out with each of you and apologize.

  51. john fowles says:

    What relation does the whining at issue in Kristine’s original post have to murmuring in the First Nephi sense?

  52. Tom Manney says:

    Having just written a “baiting” post in the Aaaargh thread that makes blanket assumptions about opposiing views, I come hat in hand, wondering if carefully articulated presentations aren’t a hopeless dream on the Internet. Sarcasm is very hard to pick up on. We’ve all run afoul of it. Tone is generally is difficult to convey. Are we just bad writers, or do all writers walk this tightrope? Is there something about the nature of online communication that it mimics spoken conversation, with all it subtle changes of tone, but loses something in the written translation?

    The “Internets” are losing some of their luster for me because I think people are using them to avoid anyone who thinks differently. When you have someone like John Fowles who doesn’t go away (and I’m not saying he should), he irritates everyone with his foreign way of speaking and thinking. We’re not used to it. We can’t even achieve intelligible dialogue with people who think differently anymore. And that’s a shame.

  53. Tom Manney says:

    Sorry. I seem to be in a mood to make emotional exaggerations. That end of the last post ought to have said, in a slightly more hopeful tone, “IF we can’t even achieve comprehensible dialogue with people who think differently, then that’s a shame.”

  54. john fowles says:

    When you have someone like John Fowles who doesn’t go away

    Ugh.

  55. Tom Manney says:

    and I’m not saying he should

  56. Tom, I think you’re wrong on at least three points. First, John F doesn’t irritate me (and we differ on just about every issue) so he obviously doesn’t irritate everyone. Second, he doesn’t have a foreign way of speaking and thinking; it’s utterly familiar to anyone who has been in an LDS Sunday School class or read the Ensign (which is not to suggest it is wrong, just orthodox). Third, I don’t think it is that hard to achieve intelligible dialogue with people of opposing views. I think it is easier online than in person because you can reread what you wrote and edit out confusing or offending words and phrases. Of course, some people are more interested in venting and mudslinging than “intelligible dialogue,” but that’s a personality problem, not a communication problem.

    I do think you’re right that tone and sarcasm are tricky in online posts and comments. I think it is best just to admit that there are some tricks you can use in face-to-face conversation, with people you know, that simply don’t work online.

  57. I am a little discouraged by John H.’s response to me. I wonder what I ever did to him to merit continually rude rejoinders from him in any given discussion. If I remember correctly, it stems from a thread over at T&S in which we took opposing views on the level of access to the divine that Latter-day Saint prophets have or do not have. Since then, it has been a rocky road. I accept it but think it is unfortunate.

    John Fowles:

    It doesn’t stem from that. I have on occasion been frustrated with you, but that’s more my problem than yours.

    If you’re interested (or anyone else), here’s where that frustration comes from: It comes from sometimes being treated like my ideas, my perspective, and my beliefs come without thought or experience. It’s maddening (again, my problem) to present your perspective and hear, “But the prophet said,” or “But don’t Church leaders have authority” or “how can you reconcile that with the True Church,” and so on and so on.

    I’ve come to where I am through a tremendous amount of soul-searching, reflection, prayer, pain, discussion, and thought. For the past seven years, I’ve had two jobs that required me to do nothing but talk and think and read about Mormonism. Before that, I was a missionary. I’ve spent 9 straight years, fully 1/3 of my life, thinking about the Church and my place in it. My wife would get embarrassed that after spending 8 hours at Sunstone, I’d come home and still talk to friends on the phone or online about the Church. She wondered why I couldn’t talk about anything else.

    I’m not saying that all this makes me right. It’s just the path I’ve taken and…well…here I am. But sometimes I feel treated by you and others as if I haven’t given implications about divinity or prophecy any thought. I know you don’t mean any harm, and I know it may sound hard to believe, but I like you and am glad you’re a part of the bloggernacle. I just have to learn to deal with responses in a positive way, and not take it personally.

  58. David King Landrith says:

    When I was first tuning in to the bloggernacle, John H, I noticed your posting a lot at the T&S. I scrimped much more on the posting back then (a fact that I’m sure brings waves of nostalgia to the few readers that care), but I mostly disagreed with you (which I’m sure is no surprise). Even so, I do specifically remember that it seemed to me that others often treated you rather shabbily. And though I sometimes thought that you overstated your case or wore your heart too much on your sleeve, I could understand what seemed to be a certain amount of frustration. I don’t know what good it does to point this out, except to say that I don’t think it’s “just you,” and I never found you to be more rude in general than others were to you.

  59. john fowles says:

    John H., DKL has a point. It’s definitely not just you.

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