Prejudice Against the Ordinary

unknownAshley Mae Hoiland, One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2016).

There is a kind of prejudice against the ordinary—and myself and the present—that colors my judgments about life and religion. This prejudice tempts me to outsource responsibility for life and religion to something extraordinary that happened to someone else a long time ago.

But when I do, I end up buying into a dubious “great man theory” of religion that hinges religion itself on a handful of great men (and, here, the theory really does – in an obvious and sexist and indefensible way – mean only men) and the extraordinary things they claim.

Surely there are great men and surely there are extraordinary things that happen. And surely some of these men and events are religious.

But I don’t believe in great men and extraordinary things as a theory of religion—not anymore. I don’t believe that they are what religion is about. Though I trust emphatically that my religion stands rather than falls, I don’t believe that my religion stands or falls simply with them.

I believe in something much, much quieter. Much, much humbler. Much more ordinary and plain.

I believe in the mundane, tinged with silence, limning the absurd.

On this score, Hoiland’s One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly is worth the weight of a thousand scholarly studies proving beyond all possible doubt that the Book of Mormon is, in fact, ancient history. Such studies may defend the historicity of scripture (and, certainly, this work has a kind of nobility), but Hoiland’s book does something much more important: it defends the reality of religion—not for a great man caught up in extraordinary events, but for ordinary women and men, doing ordinary things in their own lives, here and now.

“That’s not what I wanted!” you may protest. “Religion is supposed to turn on the greatness of these other men, not on my weakness!”

I can sympathize. I’ve long shared this prejudice.

But, still, even if this is not what I wanted, this is in fact what I need.


  1. I am so excited to read this book. I value Hoiland’s voice and insight, and I am a huge fan of her Brave Women project. In my interaction with her, I’ve noticed a rare ability to reframe thoughts and arguments and experiences. I can’t wait to read her meditations on spirituality. Thanks so much for pointing out to our readers that the book is available.

  2. A great review of an even better book. Thanks, Adam!

    Karen: you’re going to love it so much. I’m eager to know your response to it.

  3. I’m very excited to read it — and loved this review.

  4. Darn you Adam Miller. Please stop recommending excellent books for me to read. I don’t have time for all of them!

  5. “This prejudice tempts me to outsource responsibility for life and religion to something extraordinary that happened to someone else a long time ago.”

    I like the general idea here, but wouldn’t Jesus and his atonement fall in the category of “something extraordinary that happened to someone else a long time ago.”? Over the last couple of decades, I have gone back and forth between where you seem to be, Adam, and a more traditional Mormon belief that emphasizes the importance of Joseph Smith, the BOM, etc. I’m not sure the right way to walk this line, but I think there is value in both. So, please, continue to extol the value in everyday experience and our ordinary lives, but don’t fall prey to the false dichotomy that it is either all about the ordinary or the extraordinary. I think it can and must be both.

  6. Great nsight Adam. Keep spreading the word.
    Stephen Miller

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