May 7, 2023

Mormon Funerals

Can you help me group-edit a response essay to empty Mormon platitudes at funerals? This is what I have so far: 

In times of grief and uncertainty, some forces within our culture encourage us to cling to comforting simplistic beliefs and spout empty platitudes. However, even in times of loss, not suppressing doubt or smothering your confidence in the afterlife over everyone else's experience can lead to having a real life, more authentic relationships, and a deeper understanding of reality. This essay will explore various quotes and perspectives that encourage questioning, curiosity, honesty, and healing from a perspective of extreme caution and respect for truth.

My mom passed away on April 8th, and the Mormons say how great it is that I will be with her again and that faith in God is helpful at times like this. 

For instance, a family member recently said, "My sweet Grandma passed away last month...More than anything, I’m grateful for a Savior that allows families to be together forever. Life sure is sweet with a family like mine."

My mom was more than sweet. She was complex, and so is life. 

Even some atheists and agnostics believe that belief gives Mormon mourners an advantage. But is this true, or do Mormon Morners avoid and shame those who mourn?  

1) Doubt and the Absurdity of Certainty

Socrates said: "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing" and “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Voltaire said, "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd." Is it better to be absurd (without doubt) than sad and confused? I think not. We should not give in to pressure to say God will fix everything.

2) The Courage to Admit Uncertainty and Open Honest Dialogue

Clarence Darrow said: "I don't pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of." Stephen Hawking said: "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." These quotes highlight the importance of admitting uncertainty and being open to new ideas. But what does it mean to examine? Do people with all the answers examine life? Does a culture that has all the answers experience life? 

It's OK to admit that you are not OK now, as it is the first step to being OK in the future.

As Richard Feynman said: “I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned.”

3) The Value of Examining Life and Embracing the Unknown

Are there risks that the "put on a happy face" and "God will take care of everything" perspectives will deprive us of genuine emotions and experiences in life, causing us to avoid facing the complexities of our existence and becoming strong enough to acknowledge, accept, and ultimately confront our emotions? Does this cultural norm encourage avoidance? Are shortcuts to easy answers and emotional distance toxic to personal growth and the development of meaningful emotional connections?

Rainer Maria Rilke said: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

4) Balancing Belief and Authenticity

If you are happy and feel comfortable believing that families will be together forever, following all the rules is fine. However, we also need to be sure we are not promoting a culture that shortcuts the grieving process, makes people feel guilty for being sad, or whitewashing our existence, or masking our pain. Maya Angelou said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Proverbs 14:15 (KJV) says: "The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going." 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (KJV) says: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." I like the advice that we should prove things and not believe "every word."

Do not conform or encourage conformity. Be your authentic self. Feel your feelings, and don't try to paint over them with empty platitudes. Bertrand Russell said: "Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric." Ralph Waldo Emerson said "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."

5) The Pursuit of Truth

Sam Harris said: “No society in human history has suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their beliefs.” Winston Churchill said: "The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is." Albert Einstein said: "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." These quotes emphasize the importance of the relentless pursuit of truth and evidence, even when it challenges our beliefs.

6) Quotes from Latter-day Saints Leaders on Inquiry and Investigation

Spencer W. Kimball said: "We should be dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity. No one would have us become mere tape recorders of other people's thoughts." "Education for Eternity," Pre-School Address to BYU Faculty and Staff, September 12, 1967. Unfortunately, most LDS thoughts at funerals require unthinking conformity and "Vain Repetition" (Matthew 6:7), Rameumpt style, of the knowledge that we will see loved ones again (if we doubt our doubts). 

Hugh B. Brown, a counselor in the First Presidency, once said, “I admire men and women who have developed the questioning spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas and stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition, truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence nor any coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.” (Hugh B. Brown, counselor in First Presidency, Speech at BYU, March 29, 1958)

Similarly, President John Taylor encouraged open discussion, stating, "Some people will say; 'Oh, don't talk about it.' I think a full, free talk is frequently of great use; we want nothing secret nor underhanded, and for one, I want no association with things that cannot be talked about and will not bear investigation." President John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 20, p. 264

James E. Talmage quoted “The Intolerant Spirit" when he said: “The man who cannot listen to an argument which opposes his views either has a weak position or is a weak defender of it. No opinion that cannot stand discussion or criticism is worth holding. And it has been wisely said that the man who knows only half of any question is worse off than the man who knows nothing of it. He is not only one sided, but his partisanship soon turns him into an intolerant and a fanatic. In general it is true that nothing which cannot stand up under discussion and criticism is worth defending.” ~ James E. Talmage, editorial. Pittsburgh Leader. November 13, 1919. This sentiment is echoed by President J. Reuben Clark, who stated, "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed" (Clark). By embracing doubt and the pursuit of truth, we can foster authentic relationships and healing, even in times of loss.

Joseph Fielding Smith, a past President of the Church, encouraged honest investigation, stating, "The honest investigator must be prepared to follow wherever the search of truth may lead" (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p. 388). Similarly, Spencer W. Kimball advised being "dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity" (Kimball, 1967). These perspectives empower individuals to face grief and uncertainty with courage and authenticity.

Hugh B. Brown said: "The Church is not so much concerned with whether the thoughts of its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts." "An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown," p. 152.

These foster an adult approach to life, open dialogue, and proper understanding, even in grief and uncertainty. It's fine if you want to pretend you know you will see your loved ones again. However, a malnourished and immature culture only allows the vain repetition of the primary answers.

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