This is Kathleen from Dialogue. I would like to address the topic of the safety valve sins and modest heresies.
In 2003, in the winter issue of Dialogue is a short personal essay by Bessie Soderberg Clark. She describes a trip to California via Nevada where an object lesson about the futility of gambling goes awry. She won a jackpot from the quarter slot machine at a gas station. On the return trip when they stopped at the same gas station, “something” pulls her hand to the same slot machine. She deposits the hot quarter, pulls the handle, and leaves, but suspects she may have won again. Should she go back and claim the money?
I decided not to, since it was the Sabbath. I hurried and caught up with the others, saying absolutely nothing about my weak moment. I didn’t want them to know that I, their strong, upright, God-loving, church-going mother had succumbed to gambling. No, especially not on the Sabbath and entering the pure state of Utah, home of my church-loving ancestors. All the rest of the day, a little weird thought kept nagging me. Did I actually hit the jackpot? I felt very virtuous in not knowing. (p. 205)
The second anecdote to consider comes from the recently published biography of Levi Peterson, A Rascal by Nature, A Christian by Yearning. He describes learning to drink coffee through the “evil example” of a colleague in the English Department. “I still have the bad habit. I do not think I am a serious caffeine addict. I like coffee mostly because it is a convenient sin. It is a very handy, inexpensive way to stay out of harmony with your church.”
It is my contention that a in a church that has a lot of rules and suggestions for comportment, and one that values conformity, lots of us need a safety valve sin or modest heresy: a way to let steam off so the conformity boiler doesn’t explode. It has to be something not too serious, maybe something that falls in a grey area, but which has the potential to get a rise out of someone else. The “collateral damage” has to be small. A slight shoplifting habit, a gift for the white lie–these do not qualify. I am thinking of things such as:
- Buying a lottery ticket
- Not voting Republican
- Enjoying coffee or rum raisin ice cream
- Cooking with wine
- Drinking caffeinated soft drinks
- Hating the sound of adults singing “I Am A Child of God”
- Allowing a discreet piercing or tattoo
- Growing some facial hair
- Watching sports on Sunday
- Jogging on Sunday
- Thinking “I Believe in Christ” is way too long
- Refusing to keep a journal
- Violating the Sunday dress code
- Not having a picture of a temple or a framed copy of the Proclamation to the World prominently displayed
- Skipping Sunday School
- Not keeping a garden (this word of a prophet comes from the Spencer W.
Kimball era and hasn’t been brought up recently.)
Except for the safety valve explanation, I don’t know where the perverse need to assert that individuality comes from, especially from people who otherwise take their religion seriously and are committed. I think it is a kind of genius that the Church provides so many ways to go astray without doing anything really harmful, where the journey back to harmony (if one chooses to take it) is short and doesn’t require an interview with the bishop.
Will anyone else admit to a safety-valve sin? A modest heresy? Or is this just another liberal rationalizing her way out of her slacker ways?