Mental GymnasticsBy: hawkgrrrl
People refer to weak apologetics as mental gymnastics, being willing to cling to the improbable or outright absurd rather than cutting through the crap to the logical (yet possibly faith-shaking) solution. And yet, we are also told that truth is stranger than fiction and that with God nothing is impossible, which gives eternal hope to believers, as well as ancient alien experts, conspiracy theorists and cryptozoologists alike. When it comes to confirming what we already believe, the standard for our arguments is naturally a bit lower than the standard to convince us otherwise.
Within the church, some defenses of what the church teaches (or what members think the church teaches) are better than others. Starting with a premise the church doesn’t even teach almost always results in mental gymnastics. The rationale becomes even more far-fetched the more insulated from outside perspectives the person is; the culture reinforces their sense of rightness. In other words, like gossip, speculation and folklore are hard to take back, and like Tribbles, they seem innocent enough but pretty soon they multiply and take over the ship.
What rationales do you find indefensible? Here are a few I thought up from discussions I’ve heard at church or seen in the bloggernacle. Your results may vary:
Why blacks didn’t have the priesthood until 1978.
- Simple answer: Some early church leaders were racist.
- Middle ground: The church wasn’t ready for it. Too many members grew up with racial prejudice to accept the change. Societal norms forced the change eventually. Or, “we don’t know why.”
- Mental gymnastics: Although we don’t believe in predestination and many people are of mixed race, blacks are being singled out and punished for things they did or didn’t do in the pre-existence. Apparently the rest of us were all awesome, as evidenced by these privileges we’ve continued to give ourselves.
I tend to believe a mix of 1 and 2 on this one, although #3 was essentially the party line for decades even though it didn’t make doctrinal sense.
Why women don’t hold the priesthood.
- Simple answer: Men run the church and don’t see the need.
- Middle ground: Reliance on traditional roles and gender essentialism feels like a safer route to promote and protect marriage (especially for those who married very young) than creating full independence (educational, financial and spiritual) in both sexes. Instead for now we can focus on respect and equality (while throwing a bone to the codgers with the word “preside” after stripping it of all meaning). We can leave the door open for future change.
- Mental gymnastics: Women are not lobbying for ordination. Coincidentally, when they did lobby for it in the past, they were excommunicated, but those people were bad seeds in other ways so I’m sure it was pure coincidence. Motherhood is the equivalent of priesthood, which is why crack hos and girls who give birth in the bathroom at prom are basically equivalent to priesthood holders in using God’s sacred creative powers.
I probably lean toward the second one, with a dash of the first one thrown in. However, the third one is definitely getting pulpit time.
Evidence doesn’t support the Americas as geography for the Book of Mormon.
- Simple answer: The BOM is not historical.
- Middle ground: We don’t know where the Book of Mormon took place.
- Mental gymnastics: Tapirs and deer are kind of like tiny weird horses. Tally ho!
I’m for the second one on this one.
The earth is obviously older than 6,000 years.
- Simple answer: Creationism is unscientific malarkey.
- Middle ground: The church has no official position contradicting science; evolution is taught at BYU.
- Mental gymnastics: God is a prankster who put false scientific evidence like dinosaur bones in the earth just to mess with us. Good one, God!
First one all the way for me, although I believe the 2nd is the church’s “official” stance.
The Book of Abraham doesn’t match the funerary texts from which it was purportedly translated.
- Simple answer: Joseph Smith made it up.
- Middle ground: There are other source materials missing. Or conversely, Joseph was “inspired” but didn’t use a source to “translate.”
- Mental gymnastics. The Book of Abraham is more accurate than the Rosetta Stone. You’ll see.
I’m about 50/50 between 2 and 1. I tend to think it’s pseudepigraphical.
Why women shouldn’t wear pants to church.
- Simple answer: Jesus supped with harlots and tax accountants. Surely we can deal with women in pants. And don’t call me Shirley.
- Middle ground: The church just says wear your best and doesn’t care if it’s pants or a skirt.
- Mental gymnastics. If you don’t like the church’s dress code, get out! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Well, 1 and 2 are probably the same thing.
While I understand the allure of Occam’s Razor, some of the simple answers may in fact be simplistic, not accounting for the complexity and nuance of context; in other cases the simple answer is probably the accurate one. These are just a few of the things that strike me as indefensible arguments I’ve heard.
The list is by no means exhaustive. Let’s give you a chance to try it (in comments below). Pick one of the below topics, then write what you think is a simple answer, a middle ground answer and an answer that is convoluted requiring mental gymnastics. Here are some topics:
- Why did the church practice polygamy?
- How can spouses be equal when one of them presides?
- Why are temple workers, BYU students, and GAs not allowed to wear beards?
- Why doesn’t BYU sell caffeinated beverages on campus?
Or choose your own topic and give it a go.