There has been a discussion recently on an e-mail list on which I participate about why it is that men (almost) always give the last talk in sacrament meeting. An answer that was proferred was so that the male priesthood holder would have an opportunity to correct any doctrinal error in the preceding talks. This is an explicit responsibility of the presiding authority, but is it necessarily the role of the concluding speaker? It doesn’t happen very often. I can think of one case where someone (a man, and also a priesthood holder) gave a perfectly fine talk on tithing and said that the Church does not define the basis on which one applies the 10%, whether it is gross, net or whatever. That is up to the individual to determine. The concluding speaker “corrected” the prior speaker, to the effect that tithing absolutely has to be on the gross–ironically getting it wrong himself.
As I thought about this question, it occurred to me that this idea that the final speaker is usually a male so as to be able to correct prior speakers is probably not true. (Again, that is the role of the presiding authority, not the final speaker.) This appears to be an example where, as the title to this post indicates, nature abhors a (doctrinal) vacuum. People observe that men almost always speak last in sacrament meeting, and there has to be some reason for that. But none is explicitly offered. So they come up with their own ideas to fill the void.
(My own theory as to why men speak last is that it is simply a reflection of our preoccupation with deference to hierarchy and order in a patriarchal church. Your own thoughts on this particular question are on topic for this post.)
We Mormons aren’t very big on ambiguity or mysteries. Tertullian said credo quia absurdum est, “I believe because it doesn’t make any sense!”, a sentiment with which few Mormons identify. We tend to want things to have explanations, and when they don’t, we’re quite willing and capable of making up our own.
Sometimes this is a perfectly harmless diversion. Sometimes it can be deeply problematic. Witness, for instance, the folk dogmas that arose to try to explain the otherwise inexplicable practice of not granting blacks the priesthood, such as blacks being less valiant in the preexistence. (Our belief in a preexistence seems to be particularly prone to abuse in these vacuum filling efforts to make sense of things we don’t really understand.)
Do you agree that the folk sometimes fills doctrinal vacuums? What other examples of doctrinal vacuums can you think of? Are there examples where popular efforts to fill a doctrinal vacuum have actually provided solid theology for the Church, or has this phenomenon resulted in mostly nutty, forgettable or hurtful stuff?