Forget About the Swiss Guard, Think of What?

Friday morning, a short item played on the radio noting the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard. A high school teacher and former guard was interviewed and spoke of his town’s tradition of providing a large number of young men for that service to the Vatican. An honorable tradition. A tradition from which a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would become removed.

Many object to cultural embellishments being attached to Christ’s gospel. My voice, too, has sounded some of the objections. We don’t want gospel purity obscured. We don’t want unnecessary obstacles impeding those who will embrace it. We don’t want to pointlessly alienate those who don’t fall in step with a dominant style. Those who come out of the world to join Zion are losing part of their old connection with their communities regardless, however, and the more close-knit those communities are, the more the converts lose. They won’t be joining the Swiss Guard. Perhaps the Saints must simply devote themselves to the worship of God and do without various lesser pursuits. Or maybe we lean on a church culture more than we care to admit, and a reticence to recognize and embrace a church culture as such leaves converts with nothing in place of what they’ve lost.

Daniel Lazare wrote for The Nation a worthwhile review of Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century. The review starts by considering the many peoples across the world similar to the Jews: transnational, commercial clans (“Mercurians”) working the interstices of settled, agricultural host nations (“Apollonians”). The unique development for the Jews is that in late 19th Century Europe, the Mercurian qualities that had been the survival strategy for a marginal people dominated civilization for the first time anywhere.

The Mormons have an Apollonian past. Hundreds of thousands gathered to be a people in a place. In a Mercurian world, an Apollonian people could have a unique role, but how can Apollonians establish themselves around the globe as the Mormons currently seek to do? Russell Arben Fox wrote once that there is Spanish Catholicism, French Catholicism, etc., but no global Catholicism, and he expressed the hope that our church could also move in that direction. Even if this is true for Catholicism, it seems not valid for Judaism. A few thousand people embedded among many millions need deep roots to hold a persistent identity, roots held in common with others of their kind in the other nations. Likewise, Mormons are too few almost everywhere to have an identity isolated from Mormonism as a whole. I will refrain from ankle biting the next time Nate Oman yearns for extraneous Mormon culture.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

4 thoughts on “Forget About the Swiss Guard, Think of What?

  1. Simply, the Mormons just “Borg” the rest of the world. The apollonian-MOs settle in new places, stop moving to Utah, and act as more of a leavening agent. And somehow, apostacy and “national” Mormon churches will be avoided.

  2. Brother Lyle, that seems a fair description of what we need to do. My point, inasmuch as I have one, is that Mormons in poorly established settings (and almost everywhere is poorly established) need a global Mormon identity to bond to. Otherwise, dwindling seems inevitable. As I recall, the Borg drained the color and individuality out of those they were inducting and hooked them up with cybernetics coursing through and protruding from their bodies, and the cybernetics kept the new Borg connected to the group. I worry a bit about a half-way stage of naked, isolated albinos.

  3. There are plenty of cultural differences between Jews, that find their way into doctrines and practices (even inside Israel.) Just read the “Jewish Life” section of the Jerusalem Post and you’ll see plenty of it: the last article I read stated that Sephardim are far more likely to participate in a series of ritual Kaballah prayers than Ashkenazi are.

    see here

    “One of the strong points of Jewish life throughout the centuries has been its lack of conformity – its diversity.

    Diversity is far different than pluralism, which intimates that everybody and every belief (or lack of belief) is “right” and acceptable. Rather, Judaism and everyday Jewish life operated within a framework of belief in monotheism and the revelation at Sinai, the divinity of the Oral Law, the importance of traditions and customs and the tolerance of a flexible spectrum of actual observance of the commandments and rituals of the Torah.”

    The traditions differ wildly between Ashkenazi and Sephardic customs, traditions, etc. — to say nothing of modern Russian Jews and other dislocated populations. My grandfather came from a strict Orthodox Ashkenazi/Eastern European background; when I studied Jewish life in Spain’s Golden Age in college, it was like reading about a people I’d never heard of before. There are foods that are forbidden during Passover, among the Ashkenazi Jews, that are allowed amongst Sephardic Jews. How much more of a “Arab Jewish” versus “European Jewish” difference do we need to look for?

    Give Mormonism another 5,000 years and we’ll be there. In 2,000 or so, look for something along the lines of Catholicism. In the meantime, be happy to trade the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for the Swiss Guard.

  4. Sara, thanks for adding more to mull over. The Jews are not monolithic, but it seems that the culture differences found within Israel are the whole story. There are no independent Jewish cultures found elsewhere. Three out of four Jews worldwide live in two countries. Half of them live in five cities. Israel is the only nation with a significant growing Jewish population. Only a century ago, the distribution of Jews was very different, so the number of millennia a group has been around has limited predictive power. The lessons for the Latter-day Saints are unclear. I’ll take your advice,though, and enjoy having the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

    World Jewish Population
    Jewish Population Trends

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