On being Offended by Ideals and Generalizations

Sometimes it seems the only thing that is considered a “sin” in today’s culture is advocating an ideal or making a generalization. And more conservative bloggers, such as myself, tend to be the most common offenders in this regard. It always puzzles me when a statement of an ideal or a generalization provokes people into becoming offended, especially among members of the Church.

Often, one cannot declare that couples should not put off having children, that motherhood is the most valuable role a woman can fill, that it is ideal for mothers to stay home with their children, or that we should avoid watching R-rated movies, without offending someone, apparently.

I think that most of us who make these kinds of declarations are astute enough to know that there are acceptable exceptions to these generalities. And I think that most of us understand the principles of revelation enough to recognize that the Holy Spirit may authorize individuals and couples to deviate according to their circumstance. But we believe that we must espouse Ideals both individually and collectively.

I have, myself, deviated from the ideal when the Lord approved. But it is those times that I have appropriately deviated that make me wonder at all of those who proclaim that they are “offended” or that they find such declarations of ideal “offensive.”

Why are you offended?

If you are confident that the Lord has authorized your deviation, then there is no reason that I can comprehend to be offended. If you know that the Lord approves of your actions, then what reason can you have to remonstrate against the stated ideal, if it is, under most circumstances, applicable and true?

Let’s imagine that through personal revelation the Lord had authorized me and my spouse to put off having children. One day while reading a discussion about the church and families on an LDS Blog, I read a comment from one participant who declares that we shouldn’t put off having children for any reason. How would I respond? Am I offended? Of course not! I have confidence that, though they deviate from the stated ideal, my actions are approved of by the Lord. I have no reason to be offended.

It seems to me that being offended by statements of ideal or by generalizations proceeds from the perception that because something in our life, or in the lives of people we love and admire, deviates from those admonitions, that we (or they) are somehow diminished or looked down upon. In other words, offense of this type is the offspring of pride. If the Lord truly has authorized our deviation, then we have absolutely no reason to feel either diminished or offended. We should be happy to let people be generally right. And even if what they say is not a “commandment” there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that what they say is often a good idea or approach.

Now, perhaps we honestly reject certain generalizations as ideal or true. Then we should discuss why we believe those generalizations are not true. But being offended because another person is wrong simply doesn’t make any sense.

So why are people offended? Is it because they lack confidence that their deviations are really approved of by the Lord? I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out.

Nephi was authorized by the Spirit to kill Laban. The Spirit does indeed authorize exceptions to the ideal. If Nephi had thereafter made a practice of killing people to get what he wanted from them, however, then we would have to wonder if he was not being inspired by the wrong source.
The ideal remains the rule and the exceptions are just that: exceptions.

If we find that the we are “inspired” to be an exception more often than we are to follow the rule, shouldn’t we wonder whether we are really inspired? And if we are not confident enough that the personal revelations that except us from general rules are truly from God to not be offended when others proclaim them, should we be acting on those revelations and excepting ourselves at all?

And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.
– Moses 6:37

…and seeing that the hearts of the people began to wax hard, and that they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.
– Alma 35:15

And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.
– 1 Nephi 16:3

121 thoughts on “On being Offended by Ideals and Generalizations

  1. First, I think you are stacking the deck through the use of the word “offended,” which is Mormonspeak for ‘getting upset when you shouldn’t’. I think your post would have been more powerful if you had chosen another word, so I’ll engage on that level.

    When someone makes a comment along the lines of: “I am so disappointed by the widespread victory that the adversary is having in the church of tricking young couples to put off having children and tricking seasoned couples to only have one or two. This phenomenon is particularly conspicuous in the ward we live in now.”

    . . . . they can hardly be said to be making an innocent generalization, allowing that there will be exceptions to the general rule, etc. They are clearly judging their fellow Saints and finding them wanting.

    Had Matt’s wellwisher said “I know that there is joy to be found in our posterity” or something along those lines, then people who were doing other-than-the-ideal in the posterity department would have nothing to be “offended” about. You’ll notice that the Brethren and official publications of the Church explicitly allow for the other-than-ideal (I’m thinking of the Proclamation on the Family’s “other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation”) and I think we’d do well to follow their lead, instead of making statements that may further wound those who are already suffering (such as those with infertility issues) or ignore the reality that many Saints receive personal revelations to depart from the standard operating procedure.

    In other words, just follow the Brethren and everything will be fine.

  2. “If we find that the we are “inspired” to be an exception more often than we are to follow the rule, shouldn’t we wonder whether we are really inspired?”

    I must have missed this sentence. Everyone should always be checking and double-checking their inspiration, that’s a given, but your question really surprises me: Why would you put limits on what God might do in another individual’s life? And didn’t you find any irony in asking this question in a post that also mentions Nephi, who was inspired not only to chop off someone’s head (a pretty large exception) but also to rule over his older brothers and to nudge his father toward repentence and to leave the (old) promised land and to build (another) Temple? I’m afraid Nephi would fail your test.

  3. “I think that most of us who make these kinds of declarations are astute enough to know that there are acceptable exceptions to these generalities.”

    I don’t agree. I wish this were true, and I’m glad to see that you are astute enough have made this realization personally, but in my experience, lots of lots of members of the Church AREN’T astute enough to realize this, and that’s the crux of the problem.

    “So why are people offended? Is it because they lack confidence that their deviations are really approved of by the Lord? I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out.”

    But it’s obvious from your post that you DO think you know, and that you think you’ve ALREADY figured it out. The premise of much of your argument is that the only reason to be offended is out of insecurity about the rightness of your position. Thus, you can’t “comprehend” any other reason to take offense. But comprehending other circumstances in which people get legitimately offended shouldn’t be that hard. If someone makes a racially bigoted comment in Sunday School (for example), I might become offended. I might think it outrageous that such a comment be vocalized without challenge. I might be mortified that other members might take the comment to heart, or somehow believe it to be kosher Mormon sentiment. But according to your theory, I’d have no reason to be offended, since I “know” the comment to be false. I should only take offense if I harbor serious misgivings about the doctrinal or empircal accuracy of the comment. Come on.

    Aaron B

  4. Is the tagline in the sidebar supposed to be cute?

    Because I’m offended!

  5. As I recall, the idea that raising children is important was not an issue in the earlier discussion. It seemed to me that, if anyone took offense, it was at statements that assigned materialsitic reasons to why this perceived ideal wasn’t being met:

    “Materialism is pretty clearly to blame for decreasing family sizes, along with a host of others (militant feminism, etc.).”

    “Our priorities are out of whack, unless one thinks wood floors, vaulted ceilings, and walk-in-closets are more important than children of God.”

    “But it is undeniable that many Mormons explain the reason for their fewer kids not because they’ve been commanded to have few kids, but because they choose to spend their time, energy and money on things other than children.

    And, of course, the quote that Julie already mentioned.

    Can you expect everyone to not take “offense” at statements like these?

    I have honestly never heard an LDS woman say she delayed, limited, or didn’t have children solely because of materialistic reasons. I wonder if the reason why Matt thought that this was a primary reason was that many women aren’t comfortable telling him that inspiration came into play in their decisions about their children.

    Personally, very few people know why we aren’t having children now, and that has a lot to do with my perception (seemingly confirmed here) that if I receive revelation that seems to go against generally-held beliefs, my inspiration must be wrong. So, when someone asks when we’re going to have another child, I don’t give them the real reason why that’s not in the cards right now.

    It is also far easier to preach an ideal on simpler matters, like not watching R-rated movies, than on something as personal, variable, and life-altering as childbirth and raising a righteous family.

  6. Julie,

    I was not thinking specifically of the Mormon Utah discussion when I wrote this post. I hope you don’t think it was directed at you personally. It was not. I see your point about passing judgment. At the same time, you are also passing judgment, after a fashion, as much as Matt is. It is likely that you know as much about whether the majority of young LDS couples putting off children is inspired or not as Matt does. You are both judging.

    Matt suspects that in many if not most cases the action is not inspired. You suspect that it is. Matt could be right. You could be right. The point is, that not putting off children is an oft touted ideal in the church. Even if Matt is wrong about the number of Saints that are putting off children for the wrong reason, the ideal that he is putting forth is a good one. If a reader is putting off children for the wrong reasons, he should repent. If another reader is putting off children with the approval of the Lord, then Matt’s statement clearly doesn’t apply to her, or anyone like her, so why should they be offended?

    I agree with you that it is a good ideal to follow the example of the Proclamation and acknowledge the possibility of exceptions, but if you take into consideration all of the admonitions in the proclamation, and then add all of the repetitions of those ideals in statements by the general authorities both before and after the proclamation was released, they usually speak to the general ideal and not much of the exceptions.

    As for Nephi, I think that your examples of his “numerous” exceptions are pretty weak. Laman and Lemuel lost the right to leadership through wickedness. Nephi did not usurp his father, his nudging took the form of submission to his authority–hardly a shocking exception to the ideal.

  7. People get different things from reading a post.

    I took your post to be about why people are offended when an ideal is expressed.

    For example, many people are upset when it is stated that the ideal situation for children is a loving, married mother and father.

    I didn’t have that ideal though I’m certainly not offended by it. I recognize it to be ideal for a reason.

    Why are people offended by ideals? Other than the reasons you stated, I can’t think of any.

  8. …in my experience, lots of lots of members of the Church AREN’T astute enough to realize this, and that’s the crux of the problem.


    I fail to understand why your judgment that lots of members of the church (by which I assume you mean most of the conservative members) don’t recognize that there are legitimate exceptions to ideals should be any less offensive than Matt’s assertion that most couples that are putting off having children are doing so for materialistic reasons. Aren’t you passing judgment as much as Matt? Why is your generalization more acceptable?

    When I said that “I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out.” I was leaving the possibility open for other explanations. You have suggested a few. I’m not sure I agree that becoming offended is an appropriate response to the example you gave, but it is open to discussion.

  9. Assuming motives is separate from talking about an ideal. I wasn’t a part of the conversation with Matt but it sounds like he was assuming why people put off having kids. That’s different than if all he said was that it’s good to have kids. You’re right, there’s no reason to be offended by the latter, but I can see why someone could be offended by the former. The former is someone passing judgement about something of which they don’t know the whole story. The latter is just talking about the ideal.

  10. First of all, you’re assuming my comment was in some way related or in response to “Matt’s assertion” about having children. It wasn’t. In fact, it couldn’t have been, seen I haven’t even read the post that you’re apparently referring to. Once I’m done typing this comment, I’ll go try and find the discussion in question. Can I assume it’s an earlier thread on M* that you’re referring to?

    I certainly was not passing judgment on “most of the conservative members” of the Church in any way. I have no idea what percentage of members (conservative or otherwise) have the “astuteness” problem to which I referred. What I do know is that it certainly has been a common problem in many of the wards I’ve been in. And those who refuse to acknowledge the possibility of exceptions to the ideal (on the child-bearing issue, among others) certainly do seem to be “conservative” in a religiously, orthodox sense, but that fact doesn’t interest me all that much, quite honestly. I’m sure we could both list lots of ways in which non-conservatives are similarly obtuse in other areas.

    I would submit that if you hear racially bigoted comments in Church (to continue to use my randomly-selected example) and you aren’t in some sense “offended,” than there’s something wrong with your sensibilities. But of course, I’m beginning to suspect that you’re employing a narrow, idiosyncratic definition of “offended,” so perhaps we’re talking past each other.

    Incidently, I am rather sympathetic to your general point that the act of “generalization” gets a bad wrap from too many folks. I agree that generalizations can be useful, and nothing is quite as tiring as having to explain to someone for the 99th time that your generalization is just a generalization, and not a claim about every single person or situation under the Sun. Nonetheless, I still believe that, in a Mormon context, based on my experience, the “realization” you take to be obvious is not nearly as obvious as it should be.

    Aaron B

  11. O.K., seriously, where is this discussion where Matt talks about not putting off children? Is it a recent post? Somebody give me a link, por favor.

    Aaron B

  12. Julie,

    Not to completely rehash our previous discussion, but I think you’re defending the specific while I’m condemning the general. As you mentioned in Comment 1, the Proclamation acknowledges that some couples may not be able to follow the ideal, but by definition exceptions to rules are exceptional, not routine.

    I’m surprised by your assumption that Mormons faithfully keep the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth; it’s my experience that Mormons follow no affirmative commandment as they should (hence Zion’s distance, 175 years later).

    It seems odd to me that declining numbers for affirmative commandments, such as church and temple attendance, fasting, tithing, charitable giving, service, feeding the poor, or “replenishing the earth,” (each of which has exceptions), would be interpreted not as showing that Mormons are falling short of the mark, but as showing that God has exempted more people from the commandment.

    We acknowledge the commandment to attend the church regularly, for example, and recognize that there are exceptions to this commandment, yet it seems proper for someone to lament the “success of the adversary” in persuading people to spend their Sundays outside the chapel. This doesn’t mean the lamenter doesn’t realize that there are exceptions to the commandment to attend church, nor that he believes God wants him to judge others about church attendance, but simply that he holds the uncontroversial beliefs that (1) the adversary opposes God’s commandment to worship, and that (2) exceptions are exceptional.

    In the same way, my friend’s email expressed the uncontroversial belief that (1) the adversary opposes God’s commandment to multiply and replenish, and that (2) exceptions are exceptional.

    Do you find these premises or conclusions offensive?

  13. Aaron,

    I hope you enjoyed the Mormon Utah thread. When are you and Stina finally going to start having kids? 😉

    I took Jon to be addressing only his observation that people are offended when members state an ideal, though true, without adding caveats or listing the exceptions. For that reason I don’t believe the analogy to bigoted racial statements in Sunday School works, as it rightly suggests that someone would be offended by *false* statement, not a true one.

  14. I am in complete and enthusiastic agreement with everything that J. Max Wilson has written in his original post on this thread and everything that he has subsequently said in his comments. It is impossible to bear ones testimony or preach the gospel without making statements of general principle. That is what fundamental principles are, generalities. And every single time I make such a statement, no matter how innocuous or obviously true it is, someone is going to think 1) that I am specifically referring to them, or 2) that I am being “judgmental,” as if being judgmental was a sin worse than adultery. If stating such principles as generalities is so wrong, why do so many of the prophets of God do it? Are they all judgmental bigots, do you suppose? Why are the scriptures so full of such statements? It is the Word of God, isn’t it? Is God a judgmental bigot too?

    The fact is, the truth hurts. I shines on all of us and makes us look bad. It hurts our pride. And some of us would rather pretend that the truth is just a matter of personal opinion, than face up to our own shortcomings and sins. I know that is true because I have been such a person a good part of my life, and I am still that way to some extent.

    What have the prophets taught on the subject of birthcontrol? Was it true when they said it? If it was true then, is it false now? How can a poor family living in Mexico afford a huge family when privileged, affluent Americans cannot? Sure some people have good reasons to curtail the birth of their families. And by revelation they can learn from God whether or not their situation is an exception to the general rule. But the rule is still good. The principle is true. And what is the rule: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” It has been taught by living prophets in every generation that has had them.

    My wife and I had only three children. It is easy to be paranoid and imagine that the couple sitting next to us in Church with their thirteen children are judging us because our family is so small. How are they supposed to know that we had six pregnancies and only three of them resulted in children? If they aren’t close friends, how are they supposed to know that my wife didn’t start having children until she was nearly forty, and that I was unfit to marry anybody until I was almost thirty-five? So maybe our fellow ward member with all the children is being judgmental. So what? How big a sin is that? And why am I worrying about his sins instead of my own? It’s true that we should have married far younger. It’s true that I should have been worthy of a temple recommend far earlier in my life. It’s probably true that she should have accepted some of the marriage proposals that came from highly qualified candidates earlier in her life instead of being so focused on getting a post graduate degree and burning up the track in a professional career. But we didn’t. We made the mistakes we made and sinned the sins we sinned. Why else would the Savior need to come into the world so that through his atonement we can repent and be forgiven?

    But the ideal is: Have children. They are a blessing from the Lord, our greatest treasures in mortality. And stating that principle ought not to offend anyone however delicate his sensitivities are. Some of us aren’t very diplomatic by nature. So what? Everybody sins. We just hope to learn a little more tact as we grow older and continue repenting of our sins.

    Anyway, What he said… Brother Wilson has hit the nail squarely on the head. People who get offended when they hear the truth ought to lighten up a little. They aren’t so perfect that they can justly point the finger at us who seem to be judgmental. Sometimes the offense is just in their own head.

  15. I think the “offense” comes from thinking that the speaker may judge the listener to be less than they otherwise may have thought. Is this motivated by the listener’s pride? Absolutely. But this doesn’t make it an irrational feeling.

  16. What I can’t stand is when those who cry foul play because they don’t fit the “general” bill on a particular issue go on charging others with the high crime of abusing the “general” guidelines of not judging others, of not being intolerant toward others, and indeed, not witholding love from others.

    I find this highly offensive.

  17. So maybe our fellow ward member with all the children is being judgmental. So what? How big a sin is that? And why am I worrying about his sins instead of my own?

    This is a very wise comment by John W. Redelfs (#15). I think we need to spend a lot less time worrying about other people being judgmental when they repeat a generally supported Church principle and a lot more time concentrating on our own faults.

  18. C’mon guys, you’re playing the old bait-and-switch. It’s not the suggestion of the ideal that is offensive. We all KNOW what the ideal is. The offense comes in when you tell us our reasons for not living up to the ideal. The moment you start to assume I’m not having babies because I’m materialistic is the moment I begin to be offended.

    If we’re going to talk about reactions to ideals then let’s do so. If we’re going to talk about reactions to judgements, let’s do so. But you can’t say they are the same thing.

  19. This is a great post and interesting comments. I don’t have anything to add other than a bit of kindness and sensitivity to others goes a long way towards a greater understanding of our brothers and sisters. And I can’t resist throwing in the old adage of never judging anyone until you’ve had to walk a mile or two in their shoes (or moccasins).

  20. Rusty,

    I don’t know if you were directing your comment at me, but given that I was the one who speculated that the reason Mormons are choosing to have fewer kids is to protect their lifestyle, I’ll respond.

    I agree that it would be completely inappropriate for me to judge someone for having no or few kids; I don’t know all the facts. Like John said in Comment 15, I don’t know how many miscarriages the couple has had, for example, nor their fertility problems, nor their other private circumstances.

    But the *average* fertility rate has gone down at a time of unprecedented prosperity, and a time that natural miscarriages and barrenness are decreasing due to improved nutrition and fertility drugs. For these reasons we would expect more couples, not fewer, to be able to keep the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.

    I welcome alternative explanations for why, as a people, Mormons aren’t choosing to keep the commandment to multiply and replenish better, but for now I think my lifestyle-hypothesis (of which materialism is only a part) is the strongest candidate.

  21. I’d like to see an economist weigh in on the question of diminishing family sizes; it seems like the sort of social science question he or she could tackle. Frank?

    As for the “ideal”—that’s another word for “normative behavior,” and normative behaviors, if they mean anything at all, must always be backed by the possibility of coercive retribution for deviance, whether structural or cultural. (I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s an inevitable part of any social system.) Human beings don’t like being coerced, and thus those who experience that cultural coercion—in overt or subtle ways—object to it.

  22. That is, it’s not an issue between conservatives and liberals (as J. Max suggests), or between iron-rodders and liahoners, but between those who perceive themselves to have power and those who perceive themselves not to have power.

  23. Rosalynde,

    The question is whether the ideal is cultural or divine. Yes, people tend to resent God’s commandments, but I don’t know what we learn by noting that, except reconfirming that God expects us to overcome our natures.

  24. Matt,
    Your explanation would be fine if this were a discussion about why Mormons are having less children. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. J Max’s original point was that when we’re discussing ideals people get offended. I think we can safely assume that most of the people who are bothered with your assumptions of materialism aren’t bothered with the general idea that multiplying and replenishing the earth is a commandment and it would be good to obey it.

    J Max or Matt, please explain to me how assuming motives plays into “talking about ideals.”

  25. Matt, I was simply offering an answer to the original question of why people get offended by the imposition of ideals.

  26. Rusty, here’s how an expert does it:

    My beloved associates, far more of us need to awake and arouse our faculties to an awareness of the great everlasting truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each of us can do a little better than we have been doing. We can be a little more kind. We can be a little more merciful. We can be a little more forgiving. We can put behind us our weaknesses of the past, and go forth with new energy and increased resolution to improve the world about us, in our homes, in our places of employment, in our social activities.

    We have work to do, you and I, so very much of it. Let us roll up our sleeves and get at it, with a new commitment, putting our trust in the Lord.

    Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
    But with joy wend your way.
    Though hard to you this journey may appear,
    Grace shall be as your day.
    (Hymns, 1985, no. 30)

    We can do it, if we will be prayerful and faithful. We can do better than we have ever done before.

    The Church needs your strength. It needs your love and loyalty and devotion. It needs a little more of your time and energy.

    I am not asking anyone to give more at the expense of his or her employer. We have an obligation to be men and women of absolute honesty and integrity in the service of those who employ us.

    I am not asking anyone to do so at the expense of your families. The Lord will hold you responsible for your children. But I am suggesting that we spend a little less time in idleness, in the fruitless pursuit of watching some inane and empty television programs. Time so utilized can be put to better advantage, and the consequences will be wonderful. Of that I do not hesitate to assure you.

    Gordon B. Hinckley, April 1995

  27. Hm…

    Perhaps only the Prophets/Apostles/GAs are allowed to make general statements; and members aren’t allowed to repeat them or follow them to their deducitve logical conclusions?

    Make’s sense…if folks aren’t going to listen to the Prophet/Apostle/GA, then why would they listen to Joe or Jane Member?

  28. J. Max Wilson what you are saying would be true if…………………..

    people were


    If we were perfect and took everying in perfect stride, there would be no need for growth of learning.

    I have learned from my bitterness. I have decided bitterness really is in many ways one long sameness. Very little constructive production has taken place in the world from bitterness.I am grateful for the bitterness that I think that I have in large measure overcome. Yet sometimes things still surface/ Like two days ago, for instance, when I was over-heated and having and probably a little hormonal. Yet, when I simmered down and examined things from a more rationale mind, I realized that there are good people who do help people out to great sacrifice and even take them into their homes to help them. If I were to That was my issue that I was dealing with at the moment.

    I know for myself having such thinking as the Bible says not to take the Lord’s name in vain so I could not understand how Christian people can curse. Or the Bible says not to talk behind somebody’s back so I cannot understand how people would do such a thing. This is not to say I have never been guilty of either.

    I came to realize that many of the things, which were are asked to do in the Bible are there because they require the higher road. If it were easy, there would be no need for explicit teaching. Yes, turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, forgiving 7 times 777 can seem easy sitting in the pew on Sunday until they hit you personally. Sometimes we live the Gospel and other times we fall short.

    Ideally, people should not be offended if they new they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do.

    We should have an eye single to the Glory of God and not have the fear of man or care what man thinks.

    I think most of us are still arriving at that point and I really would like to emulate those who have achieved that point.

  29. lol the side bar for this article says (person’s name) is offended.

    Let’s have a contest to see who can offend other people the most. Also, let us see who can reach the zenith of offendness. I can use meausres that could really quantify all of this well.

    Here I begin with my general statemnts that I hope will be misconstrued by the populas and create much ill-will in hard feelings.

    Just kidding!

    I actually like you people here. 🙂 🙂

  30. That is, it’s not an issue between conservatives and liberals (as J. Max suggests), or between iron-rodders and liahoners, but between those who perceive themselves to have power and those who perceive themselves not to have power.

    But this goes back to my original question. Why, if they are confident that the Lord has approved their deviation from the norm, would they ever perceive themselves as not having power? If they don’t have that level of confidence, then are they justified in deviating?

  31. John Mansfield,
    You’re right, he’s an expert. And much more inspiring than “members need to repent of their worldliness, which is, by the way, why they’re not having kids.” Thanks for the quote.

    Why are your comments so full of vitriol? Please don’t play the martyr here. The problem with your logic is that your “deductive logical conclusions” are not the same as another’s.

  32. Eugene England wrote about his mission with his wife, and how they taught people that being sincere isn’t enough; they must also be right. At one point, they received a letter from Elder Hanks reminding them that that in addition to being sincere and right, one must also be effective.

    If we have a “So what?” attitude toward our own offensiveness, it’s likely that our words will be ineffective. The question of whether our audience is justified in taking offense seems irrelevant to me.

  33. What seems to lurk behind this post and the comments that have followed is a desire to be free to offend, or to avoid the responsibility shared by both the listener and speaker when an offense occurs. Minimizing the sin of being judgmental is just as wrong-headed as minimizing the sin of not multiplying and replenish the earth.

    JMW makes various assertions that I feel are false and troubling. He suggests that if you’re offended…

    …it’s because what was said is true.
    …it’s because you lack confidence in your personal revelation.
    …or your personal revelation is not inspired.

    And the implicit conclusion is that if anyone gets offended it’s not his, or the speaker’s fault.

    JMW attempts to hitch his argument onto the train of all the ancient prophets who had the wicked take offense at their true words, but this would only be applicable if the offensive speaker was in fact a prophet of God–and they’re not, nor do they have that kind of authority.

    Rusty is dead on. The offense doesn’t come from the truth or falsity of the statement, it comes from the presumption of another’s motives, or the presumption of knowledge or authority that the speaker doesn’t in fact have, nor can have. Rosalynde is also correct in saying the offense is at coercion, an assertion of spiritual, intellectual, or moral superiority or authority on the basis of presumed knowledge that an individual doesn’t hold, or shouldn’t be concerned with–for example, that an individual’s personal revelation might be uninspired, or that they must lack confidence in it.

    Rhetorically placing yourself on the level of a prophet ancient or modern doesn’t make it so. The role of condemning Mormons for having fewer children because they’re materialistic is reserved for our prophets, not for bloggers. Similarly, questioning the validity of other people’s personal relevations under the assumption that you’ve figured out why they’re offended is not an appropriate passtime for a total stranger.

  34. lyle (# 29),
    I think you’re right to a point–I sustain the prophet and other GAs as authorities and mouthpieces of the Lord’s will here on earth. I do not, however, sustain my fellow Saints in the same way. Which is not to say that my fellow Saints can’t take prophetic utterances to their logical conclusion, nor to say that they aren’t capable of deductive logic. However, their deductive logic is not binding on me, any more than my interpretation is binding on them.

    I get offended when I feel like someone is telling me what my leaders really mean (i.e., when they conclude that because Pres. Hinckley said X, Y logically follows), and then generalize this statement. It’s the person’s assumption that they are correct, and that anyone who disagrees must be, if not a sinner, at least not in sufficient tune (because if you were sufficiently in tune, you’d agree with me). I don’t find, in the real world, this to be a significant problem with the Saints (although I have seen it), but it sometimes seems to run rampant on the Bloggernacle.

  35. Casually skimming over this breathless debate, I can’t help but wonder whether both the groundless presumption of one side and the outlandish defensiveness of the other are not very telling.

    Not that it really matters, I suppose. Free-floating, emotional arguments about a book neither side has read (or could possibly read–I mean the big book, the book of life, the book that records our private acts and motives in detail) are simply boring. Trying to find meta meaning from a casual reading (who could endure more?) of such a debate is simply too much to ask. Right?

  36. Brian G and others, is it impossible then to make any normative claim (except, of course, for the one that goes “people shouldn’t make normative claims”)?

    I find it sad, that with the exception of “people shouldn’t judge,” and “people shouldn’t kill people,” there are simply no acceptable forms of a normative claim in public discourse. And, as Will just noted, the assertion of some potentially offensive normative claims will often be counterproductive depending on the audience.

    Take someone like Kant. Do you think he ever shared his thoughts at a dinner party? I doubt it. If anyone ever understood the heights of moral responsibility that he propounded, they likely would have been highly offended. Though he still holds great weight with the greatest of philosophers hundreds of years later, he would have been shut down immediately at a social gathering. Maybe that’s why philosophers only speak to and for other philosophers, because everyone else would be offended. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the Bloggernacle is not a form is philosophical discourse of any kind, it’s a dinner party.

    My point is very much the reverse of Brian’s. Just because someone is offended by what another said doesn’t mean it’s not true. “But that’s offensive!” is an ad hominem.

  37. OK Here’s a story, with a quiz at the end.
    A Young Women’s presidency asks the bishop’s wife to come to YW and give a little talk about the importance of being able to stay at home with her kids. She is a little uncomfortable with that because although she believes in that ideal and has been fortunate enough to that point to be able to stay home, many of the women serving in YW are working moms in less than ideal circumstances. The bishop’s wife loves and admires these women. The bishop asks her to not mince any words because he feels that the world is giving the girls strong messages for the opposite point of view and this may be one of the only times they hear a clear, strong message for the ideal. The bishop’s wife tries hard to teach the ideal without completely crushing the working moms, but the working moms cry anyway.

    Is it wrong to teach the ideal if it hurts someone?
    Who is justified/not justified? The bishop for addressing what he sees as a concern? The working moms for being offended? The bishop’s wife for giving offense? The YW presidency for broaching a sensitive topic? Everyone? No one?

    And the real question, the only one each person can really answer- What would be Christlike behavior in this situation?

  38. Eric,
    My point (and, as I read it, Brian G’s, although he is more than capable of speaking for himself) is not that people shouldn’t make normative claims; rather, it is that people shouldn’t make authoritative claims where they don’t have authority. It is fine to declare that big families are good, that homeschooling is less effective than public schools, or whatever. Where the problem enters is where you say, Because families are smaller, we are sinning, or, People who homeschool their children are bad parents, etc. Both are general statements, and both are offensive because the speaker is not engaging in discourse; rather, she is setting herself up as an authority. As such, discussion has ended. The speaker may be right, but (absent authority–as I said before, I’m not referring to prophetic utterances) she has spoken as a judge rather than a fellow-traveller.

  39. Of course, you can make normative claims, Eric. We’re talking, I believe, about some very specific normative claims.

    What I take issue with is making normative claims about deeply personal decisions made by others in private consultation with our Heavenly Father, or making normative claims (with assigned motivations) for the whole of the membership of the Church when that role has clearly been delineated to our prophets and not bloggernacle pundits. I also object to normative claims made with no regard to sensitivity or tact, or on ungrounded assumptions. People can and do make normative claims all the time without being offensive. Our General Authorities are good at this, denizens of the bloggernacle not so much.

    And I agree with you. Offensiveness taken or not taken is an extremely poor barometer for the truth or falseness of any given statement, but that, I think, is where JMW disagrees with us.

  40. Sam/Rusty:

    I’m not sure where the vitriol is.

    In anycase, if folks disagree with what the logical conclusions, deductions are…then they should have a logical, rationale discussion.

    If A, then B.
    If B, then C.
    If A, then C.

    The argument should be about whether it is a valid deduction, whether the “B” is really the same in both statements, etc. Where is the need for offense? Perhaps those offended needed to accept that others could come to the extension…or even that the extension is required.

    Sounds like Pride is really the underlying discussion here: both that of folks who are deviating from counsel and/or those that twist the words of counsel to unwarranted conclusions.

  41. Also I think Civility’s scenario is an interesting one. I believe people in the Church should make an effort to teach both the ideal while allowing and admitting to exceptions at the same time. This is what the Proclamation on the Family does in a key paragraph. This is what King Benjamin did when he taught that when you encounter an impoverished person sometimes you give not because you have not, but if you had, you would give. This is the model that I believe highly-skilled Church leaders follow and that rank-and-file members should do their best to emulate.

    See, I’m making a normative claim. Hopefully, I’m not offending anybody.

  42. Sam B: “It is fine to declare that big families are good . . . Where the problem enters is where you say, Because families are smaller, we are sinning . . . Both are general statements, and both are offensive because the speaker is not engaging in discourse; rather, she is setting herself up as an authority.”

    I don’t follow this reasoning. If one observes that church members are failing to live up to a commandment (to multiply and replenish, to succor those in need of succor, to attend church, to treat children with kindness, etc.), why is it improper for them to conclude that we’re sinning?

  43. Brian and Sam,

    I agree, but I don’t think anyone has been arguing otherwise. For example, no one has said, “materialism is the cause of all cases of reduction in childbirth, and anyone who has few children is sinning,” and I don’t think that anyone is saying that we ought to say such things.

    I think there are some presumptions of JMW’s motives going on, I don’t see that he’s attempting to justify judgmentalism. In fact, I don’t see that he addresses the actions of the offender at all. The post is about the offended. And it’s about being offended by generalities, not specific judgments.

  44. Rusty (Comment 26),

    You asked if speculating about motives may be inappropriate when discussing “ideals.” I don’t know that it’s ever improper to attempt to diagnose the source of our weaknesses; studying sociology taught me to look for the causes of human behaviors, and it’s something I do routinely. If you point me to any shortcoming of the Saints (gambling, pornography, poor home teaching, meager donations), one of my instincts is to seek to comprehend the underlying causes.

    I agree that our hypotheses about the underlying causes for our failures in living up to an ideal are seldom valuable when explaining the ideal, and wouldn’t do that in a church setting. Here in the bloggernacle I don’t divide my church-self from my sociologist-self in the same way. Sorry for any confusion that may have caused.

  45. Matt,
    Because it might not be because we’re sinning! It might be among the scores of possible reasons others have shared on this and the other post. Sam B is suggesting that you (Matt, or your email friend) are not in a place to make that claim.

  46. Sam B., homeschoolers, on average, score higher on their standardized exams than publicly schooled children. Ok, ok, a little bit of threadjack intended with this comment.

    J. Max — thanks for your comments. Heaven forbid in this day and age that we should call a spade a spade. And I should add that sometimes the prophets are restrained from speaking forcefully by the faith of his hearers, and sometimes he is trying to be effective by being tactful. But we don’t necessarily know which. President Hinckley is very tactful and respectful, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t become very pointed and very specific at times. See gambling, ear-piercing, etc.

  47. Rusty,

    I don’t think that is what Sam was saying, but I’ll address your perspective.

    I welcome other explanations for why we aren’t choosing to follow the commandment to multiply and replenish as well as previous generations did. I just don’t think that any of those offered so far work. Modern medicine has made it far easier and safer for us to have children, and families have far more resources to provide their children than they used to, both of which would suggest we’d have more children, not less. Julie speculated that maybe God was exempting lots more couples from the multiplying commandment than he used to, but I see that as grasping at straws, along the lines of attributing falling church attendance to God’s carving out exceptions to the general rule of regular attendance for increasing numbers of people.

  48. #39 civility mentioned an important point. How should Church leaders teach correct principles when lots of ward members find themselves in different circumstances.

    I recall discussing the importance of getting married in the temple and the roles of Men and Women in Ym’s a couple of years ago. All the boys except for one came from temple married families. This boy jumps in with how he did not even know his father and what about him? My heart was broken for him. In class I told him that we need to discuss how things should be and that sometimes thru no fault of our own we are in different circumstances.

    In private he and I had a long heart to heart about how the Lord loves him and that if he followed the church teachings he could break the cycle of “issues” in his family in his own life an an adult. He was very touched. Other YM leaders and the bishop have also helped him understand these issues over the last couple of years and even helped him get a job. I am betting that in 2 years he will go on a mission and his path before him will be clear.

    How does this apply to Multiply and Replenish? I am not sure because we are dealing with adults not YM. Adults get to make their own choices and they are not always as clear cut as we would like them to be.

  49. #35 – I’m with you. My take is also that a lot of people don’t have any tact. It’s all in how your PRESENT the “ideal”. And when you mislead others and your words betray your judgements (which are most of the time, not too righteous ones) that is when others get offended. Example: Why on earth would you EVER tell anyone “why aren’t you having kids yet” or even ask them why they don’t have kids? It’s not important for your eternal progression and plus its none of your business! You should be asking yourself why do you care so much? because I’m sure there is much you’ll find in answer to that question that you can work on personally.

    Along these lines, I find that I get offended when I feel “that someone is telling me how I should live my life & that I’m currently doing it wrong” – then I reflect on why I feel this way and usually it has been in the “how” something was presented, which I usually think “ah well…they meant it this way, but said it badly, so I’m okay”

    #22 “I welcome alternative explanations for why, as a people, Mormons aren’t choosing to keep the commandment to multiply and replenish better, but for now I think my lifestyle-hypothesis (of which materialism is only a part) is the strongest candidate. ”

    This bugs me, and is a classic example of what I’m talking about above. Your biases are showing! Have you considered that it is extremely expensive to have children and possibly some of us are waiting until we can afford to give them the type of upbringing that will provide for them? And don’t give me the selfish/faith speech – I don’t see this as me being selfish with my “lifestyle” but wanting to work that much the harder now while I’m young, so my children can experience more of life. (an entire spectrum including Having a bed, going to YW camp, being involved in sports/band etc.)I also don’t see this as a lack of my faith – many using the excuse “the Lord will provide no matter what, just live right and have faith” – I do have faith that I’ll be a good Mother, and that I won’t end up hating it (there are many that do – check out feminist mormon housewives) but my point is that any decision has to have 2 elements in perfect harmony – your pragmatic confirmation as well as the Lords direction.

    #39 A smart YW Presidency would have asked a working Mom to teach the lesson on the importance of staying home with the kids. Think of how much more powerful that lesson would have been, and who could be offended by a woman who has to work to provide for her family, touting how much she wishes she could be at home – but cherishes every moment she has with her kids. That I think would be a good presentation of the ideal. Also, sticking to the Scriptures/Prophets words helps too but rarely happens in RS – tangent kingdom 🙂

  50. First of all, one thing that offends me is when people offer unsolicited advice or input. for example, my wife recently mentioned off hand that she *might* try home school again, and she was verbally berated, insulted, and lectured to by the person she told. The only reason she even said anything was because this person asked what my wife was planning to do for school this year.

    I have decided that my typical response to all of the personal questions we get asked by other church members who like to intrude into our lives is going to be: “none of your damn business!” Our private information is like pearls, and why should we be casting our pearls before the swine who won’t understand and who will just trample it?

    If we didn’t have kids, I would consider it the height of rudeness for people like JMW to preach to me about it- there would probably be very painful reasons, so why pour salt in those wounds?

    People are so rude and invasive, particularly the nosy people in your own ward. My wife is expecting right now. People always ask “how are you going to have the baby?” Come on- that is pretty invasive. Are we really supposed to answer that? (“vaginally. but we haven’t decided yet if we’ll allow an episiotomy…” GROSS- do you really want to talk about that?!?)

    That is why when people preach their “ideals” I feel offended- because they have no idea what our life is like and I would guess that they have no real idea what the Lord’s true ideals even are- these rude and nosy hypocrites who we have to go to church with. They’ll treat you nice if they think you are living what they view as the Lord’s ideal, then ostracize you if you deviate in the slightest, and pronounce judgments over your head.

  51. I would consider it the height of rudeness for people like JMW to preach to me about it- there would probably be very painful reasons, so why pour salt in those wounds?


    You have made me into a generalization (“people like JMW”)! How marvelous! And you don’t even know me. The irony is delicious!

    I agree with you that it is very rude to approach a ward member and ask them why they aren’t having children, or to imply that they are sinning because of it. I have not advocated doing anything like that and those who know me best will attest to the fact that I am not in the habit of doing it.

    I wrote about generalizations and ideals. Approaching a specific couple does not qualify as a generalization, now, does it?

    You are absolutely right that neither I nor anyone else has the right to judge you and your personal circumstance. I do think that we should be able to make general declarations that the ideal is that member couples not wait to have children. Since you are confident that the Lord approves of your deviance from that ideal, I see no reason why you should be offended.

  52. Eric,

    For the record, JMW uses the specific example of a couple putting off children in his post. Now JMW himself may not see this discussion as a continuation of an earlier discussion where judgmental comments were made, but a number of the commenters see it that way. (See comment #5 to see some examples of what was said.) To paraphrase one comment, if you have one or two children the Adversary has been victorious and tricked you–this is, as Julie pointed out, a judgmental thing to say and not an innocent generalization.

    JMW presents his post as a sincere search for the reason why people get offended. I and others simply offered him reasons. He suggests quite clearly that he can’t think of a good reason why people should be offended (unless of course their personal revelations are false, or they lack faith in them) and it’s obvious to me that in de-justifying people taking offense he is justifying making judgments (only as long as they’re true, of course) simultaneously.

    Having said all that, let me make it clear that the bone I have to pick with JMW is not over the specific issue of why some Mormons don’t have more children, although I am sympathetic to those that have prayerfully made that choice and are bothered by oft-repeated comments intended to suggest that they might be materialistic, selfish, or in opposition to the prophets. What bothers me most about JMW’s post is his rhetorical strategy, which is to align himself with the ancient prophets of the past in order to suggest that people only take offense because they can’t accept the truth, or because their personal revelation is false, or they don’t have enough confidence in it.

    If I were to use his same methods of argument against him, it might look something like this:

    Many generalizations are harmful because they contain judgments, by this I mean conclusions that people make certain choices because they are materialistic, selfish, or disobedient. But the Savior was clear when he said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” in the Sermon on the Mount. The Lord also warned us, “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

    Now if someone doesn’t believe Christ is the Son of God we can discuss that, but his words are pretty clear to me. Why then do people, even members of the Church, still make judgments? The Savior presents an ideal for us to follow and that ideal is to not judge our neighbors, but to love them. I can’t for the life of me still understand why people deviate from the Lord’s ideal to make judgments. Could someone please help me understand this? The only reason I can think of as to why people would still make judgments is if they lack confidence that the Savior’s words are true. Or perhaps they feel those words of the Son of God weren’t inspired after all. If you end up often making judgments than it might very well be because you don’t quite have a sufficient testimony of the Savior yet.

    Of course, that’s unfair, and so is JMW’s post.

  53. People always have reasons for why they can’t do what is the ideal. Sometimes, there are clear ideals.
    I have a friend, for instance, who has a boyfriend even though she has not filed for divorce.
    Of course, when we discussed it before she dated, as well as after, I have no problem telling her “I think it is wrong to date while married” and “I would think it is only fair to the person you are dating to at least have filed for divorce before dating (have taken action to end the marriage).”
    Of course she has her reasons. But it doesn’t change the ideal. ANd I can’t always “hide” the ideal around people who don’t live the ideal.

  54. I think on the whole that JMW raised some good points. And it is important to examine how easily one can take offense. Perhaps with this knowledge, we can in a sense innoculate ourselves when hear a very generalized statemnt or even a more specific statement directed at us.

    I am glad that Matt Evans clarified the standpoint of which he is coming from.

    I know my previous statements may have been very circular and not on issue. Also, due to poor editing I did not delete parts of sentences making for broken throughts.

    What I am trying to say is that a person may feel confident that what he is doing is right but still feel the sting of feeling judged by other people however general or specific their statements might be. In fact, I might propose that sometimes knowing that what you are doing is the very thing you are supposed to be doing can at times make you very susceptible to feeling offended as it angers you to think that others do not comprehend how you have reached this personal decision.

    Human nature is to be offended. Yes, people can rise above this inclination. Perhaps even as a culture we can encourage people to rise about it. There are certainly cultures that influence people’s attitude of what others think of them by telling them that it is better to kill oneself to save face or in other cultures it is better to kill a member of the family who has been raped to remove the shame from the family. Thankfully, our culture does not value saving face to that degree.

  55. Matt wrote, “Julie speculated that maybe God was exempting lots more couples from the multiplying commandment than he used to, but I see that as grasping at straws, along the lines of attributing falling church attendance to God’s carving out exceptions to the general rule of regular attendance for increasing numbers of people.”

    You are misreading me. I don’t think that *anyone* is exempt from the command to multiply and replenish the Earth who has taken on that covenant, but what you have done is assumed that “multiply and replenish the Earth” means “have as many kids as you physically can” and I cannot imagine what would justify that interpretation (for everyone; there are specific couples who I assume have been inspired to have very large families).

    Here’s the latest authoritative statement on the topic of birth control, from True to the Faith:

    “If you are married, you and your spouse should discuss your sacred responsibility to bring children into the world and nurture them in righteousness. As you do so, consider the sanctity and meaning of life. Ponder the joy that comes when children are in the home. Consider the eternal blessings that come from having a good posterity. With a testimony of these principles, you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord.”

    In other words, different couples will be led through prayer to have different numbers of children at different times. None are exempt from multiplying and replenishing, but translating that phrase into numbers and spacing will be different based on the couple. I believe that the GHI adds that the Saints should avoid judging each other in these matters. I can think of several reasons why the Lord might lead a couple to have only a few children:

    perhaps they *want* a large family and are having their faith tested
    perhaps they will have high-need children (special needs, etc.)
    perhaps there is other work that the Lord needs the couple to do besides raise kids
    perhaps they need to serve as a temptation to Saints who might judge them so that their fellow Saints can be tested in all things
    perhaps the world is so corrupt that parents can only properly raise a few children in their environment

    Again, some people have small families because they are materialistic. Some have small families because the Lord inspired them to do so. I’m going to *assume* that everyone I meet is in the latter category. If they are in the first, well, the Lord will deal with them. But what gain is there to me in judging them? And what good is accomplished by generalizations?

  56. Julie, in the April Ensign, President Faust had this to say about declining fertility rates:

    “Another disturbing challenge to the family is that children are becoming less valued. In many parts of the world, people are having fewer children.”

    Because Faust finds it disturbing that “people are having fewer children,” it seems that he doesn’t believe God is behind the decline.

    (It’s hard to tell from the way the article is diplayed at LDS.org, but it appears his original quote may have been taken from his talk at the January 2004 Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting.)

  57. Matt,
    You’re reading Faust’s quote as one sentence. It can be read in two different ways:

    Your way, A) “children are less valued therefore people are having fewer of them.”

    Or B) “people are having fewer children therefore we can safely assume that they are less valued”

    I hate to be so nit-picky but it seems that you want so much to be right that you’re only allowing yourself to see that which supports your hypothesis and you toss that which contradicts it. So much so that you overlooked maybe the best comment on this thread so far (Julie’s last paragraph of #59) so you could give us some quote that may or may not support your hypothesis.

    Thank you Julie for the instruction of how to be more like Christ.

  58. Rusty,

    There are oodles of statements from the brethren discouraging couples from delaying or limiting their children. I don’t believe Julie (or anyone else) is denying that fact. Julie’s contention, as I understand it, isn’t that those statements weren’t made, only that they are no longer in force; declining fertility rates may have portended ill in the past, but that’s so 15-years-ago. These days God is probably inspiring Mormons to have fewer children.

    I used the Faust quote because it manifests that, as of January 2004 or April 2005, Faust still believed declining fertility is a bad sign, and not the effect of God’s inspiring people to have fewer kids.

    (As for Faust’s quote, it’s clear in context that he used declining fertility rates as evidence that people do not value children as they should. In the following sentence he condemns abortion and says it’s further proof that people don’t properly value children.)

  59. Besides this debate on fertility, that Tribune series also spawned a few posts on conversion and retention. It is interesting that no one appears to take it too personally when reasons for our shortcoming in those areas are pondered. My stake president several years ago noted in a talk that sharing the gospel is one area of discipleship where nearly everyone recognizes he falls short. A person can throw out an explanation for these failings, and no one will respond “Hold up there, brother. You’re judging everyone in your ward.”

    These comments on fertility also remind me of one of the explanations given in conference (by Oaks? or Ballard?) for our failing to proclaim the gospel. It was said that we are inappropriately waiting for personal revelation directing us to act. Opening our mouths shouldn’t require specific authorization.

  60. John,
    You’re right. However, I think part of the reason is that there are very few circumstances that it would be a poor decision to open your mouth and talk about the gospel. Even if a member has psychological problems, if he bears his sincere testimony the outcome isn’t likely going to be a problem. In the case of women who are bearing/raising children, there are many reasons (other than fertility) in which it wouldn’t be a good idea to have a more and more kids.

    You’re right as well. I’m not going to contend that there are no quotes and I agree that the general thrust of the prophet’s message is that having kids is a good thing. I’m still curious as to how you would respond to Julie’s question in her last paragraph of #59?

  61. Matt, if we’re going to play dueling quotes, yours is an extraordinarily weak comeback to Julie’s cite from True to the Faith. The passage Julie cites, from a recent and definitive source, could scarcely be more laissez faire in its approach to family size; and if Elder Faust was intending to rebuke the Saints for their small families and instruct them to have more and earlier, he could hardly have been more oblique in doing so.

    With all due respect, it seems to me that you’ve got a similar problem here that you’ve got with another of your gospel hobbies—stem cell research. The most recent and definitive pronouncements on the topic from the First Presidency do not support (though neither do they contradict) your fervently-held beliefs, so you must either extrapolate beyond what they actually say or else reject them as “not what the brethren really meant.”

  62. I don’t offend easily. I get irritated easily. And I get irritated when people come off preachy and self-righteous and start telling me what to do.

    If somebody came over and said, “You should follow the Savior and try to be kind” I’d probably tell them to go to —- I would be mean if I want.” It’s a character defect. Me and God and my fairy godmother, Marjorie Hinkley are working on it.

    I got offended the other day when my best friend (one of the multitude), who is the young womens president, told me she needed to replace a couple of women and only wanted temple worthy women. I said, “are you nuts, look at so and so, she’s temple worthy, but she’s worthless. Why don’t you call her? (My friend demurred quickly) And look at this other girl, she hasn’t been to the temple, but she’s terrific.” That sort of attitude really torques me. Temple worthy my eye. A lot of idiots go to the temple.

    I know so many women who go to the temple and brag about it, but never do their visiting teaching.

    Well, that was a rant. Visiting teaching is sort of my judgemental scale.

  63. Rusty,

    To answer your question about Julie’s question, I think the value of generalizations is to show the default answer: that as a general rule, and while recognizing exceptions, members should share the gospel and couples shouldn’t delay or limit their children. There are legitimate reasons that we shouldn’t refer particular friends to the missionaries, but if there’s a universal decline in missionary referrals, we should recognize our weaknesses and strive to do better.


    I admit that Faust’s comment isn’t a robust pro-fertility pronouncement — I used it because it was recent and clearly manifests his pro-fertility stance.

    More importantly, I reject the suggestion that the True to the Faith quote shows that Mormons are valuing children as they should. Unless one believes the prophets and God aren’t on the same page, when the prophets tell us to “ask God yourself,” we should expect most people to get the answer the prophets have been giving all along: don’t delay or limit your children.

    To provide an example: the church doesn’t prescribe the amounts of our fast offerings and charitable donations; as with children, it’s left between us and the Lord. But it seems absurd to infer that this fact means that Mormons are giving as much as God expects us to, and that no matter how low donations might drop, we can know that all is well in Zion: God is inspiring everyone to give less!

    (As for stem-cell research, I’ve never claimed church support for my views, as I am here.)

  64. Matt – I saw the pictures of your beautiful daughters at T&S. Congratualtions! You’re in for a lot of fun with twins.

    I’ve read through your comments, and am wondering how many children do you think each healthy couple should have? And, on a more personal note, how many children are you (and your wife) planning to have?

  65. It seems to me that the level of judgmentalism of a claim has and is still being used to evaluate truth-value. The claim that another claim is judgmental is not a valid argument.

    I understand and agree that the feelings of those involved in a discussion should always be considered, but when we immediately eliminate all claims that are potentially judgmental purely because they are judgmental, we are not engaging in open dialogue.

  66. Hi Tess,

    Thank you, I’m really happy that we have these twins and hope you can meet them.

    I guess my basic attitude on the number of kids is that parents of good kids should have as many kids as they can. (Yes, I think the correlation between good parents and good kids is very high.) It’s not comfortable to admit, but I’m not sad when bad parents don’t have more kids.

    Last year this phenomenal man gave an excellent talk in sacrament meeting. He’d recently been released as the bishop of the largest ward in our stake, and everything he said showed tremendous charity and a full appreciation of the gospel. During the talk he mentioned that he was the oldest of eleven children. I had been so impressed this guy that I was delighted to know that there were ten kids raised by the same parents he was.

    And there’s the fact that my wife was child number 10. My wife’s parents sacrificed a tremendous amount of material comforts to raise ten kids — they only have one-bathroom (and seven daughters!) — but society is all the richer. Her siblings are all outstanding citizens who benefit others, and society would be worse off if there were fewer of them. And of course I wouldn’t even know their family, or the love of my life, if they had chosen to have only five kids.

  67. Matt,
    You avoided the question. Julie asked what the advantage is in assuming the membership as materialistic over assuming that each couple doing what they can. And saying that in general “we should strive to do better” is different than “in general couples aren’t having children because they are materialistic.”

    The True to the Faith doesn’t have anything to say about God’s satisfaction with his children’s obedience to His commandments, but it does spell out those commandments. Apparently, the commandments are a little different than the way you seem to see them.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that “he’s judging so he has no truth claim.” It has been offered that judging is no better than limiting children, but that’s not even the point. What we’re saying is that it’s the judgements that are what’s offensive, NOT the generalizations.

    A) “We should probably avoid R-rated movies because it’s not a good idea to expose ourselves to the kind of content that is usually found therein.”

    Not offensive. This can open fine discussion about the media and its influence.

    B) “Anyone that watches R-rated movies is sinning, being tricked by Satan, and rotting their souls”

    Offensive. This can open a fine argument about who is the worse sinner with each side moving farther and farther to thier sides.

  68. Thanks, Matt. I come from a big family too (seven kids). We had four girls and only one bathroom. We didn’t get along at all growing up, but now I treasure my friendships with them.

    I think it takes a special woman to want to have 10 kids. And I’m sure your wife fits into this category (special, meaning exceptional, extraordinary, etc.). There is nothing more important than raising and educating good people in this world, and I’m grateful that you and your wife are doing this. When I think of having a large family, I feel really sad and inadequate that I could never make those sacrifices. And I think that’s where a lot of resentment comes in that you’re hearing here on the bloggernacle (and maybe from other places). It’s more important for your wife to be a good mother to 10 kids than to be a world-famous surgeon, but what if you can’t be a good mother to 10 kids? This is a heartbreaking decision for many to make, who may want kids or want more kids, but realize that they are stretched to the limit (emotionally, financially, etc.) so that they can only take care of themselves or their current family members. Maybe if these people relied more on their testimonies they could do it, but having kids out of obligation and not out of love is a recipe for disaster.

    Anyway, you have a wonderful family. Congrats again, and I wish you and your wife all the best!

  69. 🙂

    Matt, it must be devastating to realize that I’m the oldest of eleven, then! 🙂 (Think of all those feminists subverting gospel teachings in Young Women…)

  70. Rusty,

    I didn’t claim there was an *advantage* in my assuming that the reason for Mormons’ declining fertility rate was their desire to protect their lifestyle (which again, is broader than materialism). I’m just trying to find the cause for the decline, just as I would for any social problem.

    I agree with your that the True to the Faith quote doesn’t say that God’s satisfied with the way we keep the commandment to “multiply and replenish the earth,” but I haven’t said that it did. It has been Julie and Rosalynde who’ve tried to use the quote to prove that declining fertility rates aren’t a bad thing.

    The TTTF quote simply says that only God can tell a couple how many children they should have, just as he’s the only one who can tell them how much they should donate to charity. Those statements can’t tell us if he’s pleased with our fertility or generosity.

  71. Rosalynde,

    The world would be so much better if there were more people like you. (And I’m delighted to be reminded that there are ten others raised in conditions similar to those that formed you. The world is better for it.)


    I didn’t mean to imply that my wife wants ten kids — she doesn’t! (Just having finished a miserably hard pregnancy, she’s in no mood to consider having more!)

  72. Matt,

    Can you define for us what it means to correctly multply and replenish the earth? Should LDS Couples without fertility or health issues strive for 3 kids? 6? My parents had 5 kids while young and decided to stop. I am really curious what people think. I have 4 boys 5 and under and am considering in a couple of years when the dust settles having another hopefully a girl and then being done. I have read that Julie has 4 kids and in my opinion she has her hands full and is really multiplying and replenishing. I feel like I have really multiplied especcially with twin sons 16 months old.

    What do others think? Is there anyway to really answer this question? Should we be offended if we have 2 kids and others with 5 kids talk about multiplying and replenishing the earth? President Lee had one kid if my memory serves me right.

  73. J. Max Wilson:

    I think people get offended when you are rude to them.

    We don’t need to do an in-depth analysis here–just remember this equation: I’M RUDE = I WILL OFFEND PEOPLE.

  74. Bob,

    Like I told Tess, my feeling about charitable giving is “as much as you can,” and about building good kids for the world, “as many as you can.” My fear is that when we tell people to do as much as they can, they frequently read that as a pass to do less. One sure-fire way to reduce tithing receipts would be to end the 10% standard and tell people to pay as much as they can.

  75. This has turned into an interesting thread.

    I have mixed feelings on this issue. On the one hand, I am glad that Matt and Rosylynde’s parents and other good people are having lots of kids! The world can use more people of that quality. I also admit that I have a politically incorrect fondness for western culture, and I fear that it may be demographically washed away over the next century.

    On the other hand, I don’t think that old-fashioned pronouncements against any limiting of family sizes is realistic when seen from a society-wide or world-wide perspective. I don’t believe the world’s population growth over the last century is sustainable, so I’d rather see it limited by birth control rather than by higher mortality or limitations on marriage, the mechanisms that limited population growth in past times. A decline in fertility is a completely predictible and necessary response to the huge decline in mortality. I think old-fashioned church leader pronouncements that encourage giant families may be a relic from a very unusual frontier-settlement time when no check on population growth was needed.

    I suppose it’s also possible that God wants good mormons to have lots of kids, but is not displeased when non-mormons don’t have more kids. Church leaders don’t make this distinction, but they don’t need to since non-mormons aren’t listening anyway!

  76. Ed, I think your final paragraph is right. I don’t complain when Planned Parenthood workers ingest birth control like candy. : )

  77. Didn’t someone post the number of kids each of the apostles have? If I remember right there were 4 or 5 of them that had three or less.

    I think you’re misinterpreting Julie and Rosalynde’s use of the TTF quote. I believe they’re using it to say “look, the prophets aren’t telling everyone to have big families, they’re telling each couple to make the decision between them and the Lord.” But they can defend their use of the quote themselves. That is how I read it though.

    As a side note, I think this has turned out to be quite an interesting discussion. I like this kind of thing because it forces me to pick apart exactly what I feel and why I feel it. Matt, I hope I’ve shown no disrespect. I truly appreciate your point of view and value your comments here. And of course Julie and Rosalynde’s comments are always so nice and clear.

  78. Matt,

    The securalists are not having kids. My non member friends who do not attend church usually have 0-2 kids. Look at the birthrate in the state of MA. I share the same sentiments on this issue. I am very concerned about western europe though. It appears that give it 75 years western europe could be muslim. This could lead to serious conflicts with the US.

    We could go on and on. LDS birthrate is still higher than the rest of the US.

  79. Bob, the (US) LDS birthrate has always followed rises and declines in the national birthrate–on average, Mormons have had about one more child than the general US population, but the economic and societal factors that influence non-Mormons to have more or fewer children seem to have affected Mormons pretty similarly.

  80. Kristine I agree that LDS have one more child than the average over time. The average though includes everybody. I would argue that there are two levels of fertility. There are lots of exceptions of course. Nobody post in response that they know a ACLU member that has 5 kids

    Non church goers AKA the state of MA. Secular liberals. Members of mainline liberal protestant churches. lapsed catholics. reformed/conservative jews
    Church goers Active catholics, orthodox jews LDS evangelicals muslims

    LDS are probably on the high side of the Church goer list.

    I have seen studies where Bush carried 25 of the top 26 states with the highest white birthrate. Bush carried the vast majority of fervent church attenders per the research I have seen. There is a strong political/religious element to birth rates. This is why Matt mentioned Planned Parenthood types ingesting BC.

  81. Rusty,

    I see “multiply and replenish” as the fertility commandment — we’re commanded to grow, to become bigger. I see statements like that from TTTF to be addressing the follow-up question: “We know we’re supposed to multiply, but multiply the two of us by what number?” The answer: only God can tell you that number.

    In the same way, we know we’re supposed to give a “generous” fast offering, but only God can tell us what dollar number that translates into for our unique circumstances.

  82. Re Matt’s #60:

    7.3: Average number of children of the six most senior members of the Quorum

    3.8: Average number of children of the six junior members of the Quorum.

    Gee, Matt, I guess they better start repenting of their materialism? Do you think there might possibly be rightesou reasons for the decling birthrate now?

    Re Matt’s #67: “I think the value of generalizations is to show the default answer: that as a general rule, and while recognizing exceptions, members should share the gospel and couples shouldn’t delay or limit their children.”

    But True to the Faith says With a testimony of these principles, you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord

    It really concerns me, Matt, to see someone so out of harmony with the official teachings of the Church. Matt, I hope that you will ponder the paragraphs about birth control in True to the Faith and try to realign your thoughts with the orthodox teachings of the Brethren. (only half-joking here)

    Matt also writes, “we should expect most people to get the answer the prophets have been giving all along: don’t delay or limit your children. ” Matt, you’d have to believe that there is some extraordinary infertility among the wives of men who are called to the Q12 in order to believe that 3.8 kids represents not delaying or limiting children.

    Bob, I have 3 kids right now, but feel strongly that the Lord’s plan for our family is to add one more child (in about three years) and then be done. Just clarifying. Which means that we’ll be, let’s see, about 5% more righteous than the 6 junior members of the Q12. (Joking! Just kidding!)

  83. I got in on this one late. We had to bury my mother-in-law. So, I’m catching up on my reading.

    I was offended when the bishop’s wife told me that my son had died because he wasn’t living right. My wife was offended when the same bishop’s wife told my wife that she was proud to see her son grow to be a man and that she was glad that she had three sons because then if she lost one, she would still have the others. She knew that the woman she was talking to had just lost her only son.

    In High Priest’s group, as we were discussing tithing, I told about a brother on my mission who lived in a dirt floor shack, but faithfully paid his tithing. I did not point fingers or make any comments about fat, greedy North Americans who refused to pay tithing. I think that he is a great example of faithfulness and thought I would share that with my brethren. A couple of brothers took offense and began a personal attack on me. After the meeting, one brother pulled me aside and mentioned that these two brothers did not pay tithing and had been offended because their consciences had been pricked. Sometimes offense is because it is easier to be mad at someone else when we should be mad at ourselves.

    My favorite quote on taking offense is from Dostoevsky:

    “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill—he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.”
    – Brothers Karamazov, Book 2, Chapter 2.

    This doesn’t apply to those, like the bishop’s wife mentioned above, who go out of their way to give offense, but to those who may take offense at little things. They may be looking for a chance to take offense so that they can use that as their excuse for going inactive rather than admitting that they really don’t want to consecrate their lives.

  84. Then there’s the Presidency of the Quorums of the Seventy, who average one year older than the junior six apostles and average six children each. So, is the lesson that the overly fertile of 25-45 years ago weren’t attuned to the Spirit and missed out in their preparation for apostleship? Fortunately, they were still usable in another quorum.

  85. Matt,

    The problem with the “as many as you can” standard is that you don’t know whether you “can” until long after the decisions have been made. I come from a family of eight kids, and I know that one of the reasons my parents divorced, and why five of my siblings don’t believe in the Gospel (or even God, for that matter), is that there were just too many kids for my parents and their dispositions. I realize lots of people (like Rosalynde’s parents, for example) can do a stellar — even breathtaking — job raising large families in light and truth, while nurturing their own marriage. But my parents couldn’t. This was profoundly disillusioning for my mother, who went to BYU in the sixties, heard all the pronouncements about “have lots of kids and have home evening and sacrifice worldly gain and everything will work out right.” She did, but it didn’t, and her testimony did not survive. Having seen this unfold, I am inclined to probably underestimate, by no small measure, what “as many as you can” means for my own family. Is this common sense, wise self-knowledge, or is it simply lack of faith? I’m not sure. Maybe the fact that there are others like me (the first generation descendants of 1960s and 1970s big-family-Mormonism that saw the sometimes poor results of big families) has a small part to do with our falling birthrates.

  86. Hey, B. Bell – I have lots of anecdotal evidence that the secularists in MA are having lots of kids – by the busy-ness of the playground I pass on my morning jogs. And from the looks and sounds of things, these liberal secularists love their children just as much as you love yours. Same with the crazy Planned Parenthood volunteers – sometimes their kids turn out pretty great, too.

    I’m getting a bit ancy reading some of the generalizations here. I guess they’re all expressed honestly and they may be true to a certain extent, but I’m detecting a sense of forboding among us white folks at the thought of non-white folks and the Muslims taking over the world some day. As long as we all remain calm and live the true religion of Jesus Christ and Muhammed I think the world might actually be a pretty good place to live under these circumstances. But if we decry the increased rate the non-whites are reproducing and replacing the whites, it might be harder for all of us to get along down the road if/when whites are the minority.

  87. Elisabeth: I’m curious why would you trust your anecdotal evidence over the systematically collected evidence that is so easily available? For example, according to this table,
    Massachusetts has one of the lowest birth rates among U.S. States, more than 1/3 lower than Utah!

  88. Hey, ed – of course my anecdotal evidence doesn’t stand up statistically! I think there are “lots” of kids in my neighborhood, even though there are no Mormons. And I guess I (mis)interpreted B. Bell’s comment as being rude toward my friends here in Massachusetts who are all pretty much reform/conservative Jews, lapsed Catholics, secular humanists and so-called liberals. But these “kinds” of people love their kids, and are generally great parents.

    I guess maybe it’s not such a bad thing that people aren’t having so many children these days. As long as the parents love their children and are willing to work hard to provide a happy home for them, I don’t really care whether they have one child or 15 children.

  89. E #92.

    This is pretty well researched out by both Liberals and Conservatives. Its not a slam just a look at the raw numbers. Electoral votes are shifting from blue states to red states. The birthrate issue is one of the causes. The religious link with marriage rates, voting patterns and birthrate is also pretty clear. Its why the democrats were trying really hard to get single women to vote in 2004. Its also why the REPS went out to the new exurbs looking for young married families in 04. The parties know who there voters are. Its been building steam since 1988.

    Offended by raw numbers? It plays into the original gist of the thread.

  90. Thanks for clarifying, Bob. I guess I just took offense that you seemed to be casting negative judgment on large groups of people for not having children or having fewer children. I’m not disputing the statistics or the numbers, I just wanted to point out that the real people behind the statistics and numbers are usually great people (and parents), even if they don’t go to church, or if they aren’t white, or participants in Western culture. (as I’m sure you would agree – if I could be so presumptuous).

  91. E:

    You betcha.

    I would hazard a guess that a lot of the people who are having kids in MA fit the profile of the church goers I mentioned in a previous post. Its just a fact that liberals non church goers etc have fewer kids. This will play out for years to come. I think we are in the beginning of a trend in this regard. I feel its impacting politics right now. Compare my 54 year old dad with a 54 year old fictional liberal co-worker in a blue state. My dad had 5 kids vote in the last election. 4 out of 5 for Bush His evangelical neighbor has 4 kids and three are old enough to vote. All for Bush His fictional co-worker if he has kids had one or 2 and had them in his mid 30’s to mid 40’s. probably not voting yet and there are only 1-2 of them. See the trend????

    Go to a Arizona or Las Vegas high school. There are far more LDS kids at these high schools then the percentage of LDS in the general population.

    The discussion on this could be endless……

  92. Bob, are you related to Davis, Ryan and the other Bells? Just wondering – I wouldn’t hold it against you.

  93. #96 E:

    If those guys are related to Alfred Bell who joined the church in 1840 or so and moved west from Nauvoo then yes.

    Also if they are from William Bell who moved to the Carolinas about 1700 from England Alfreds great great whatever.

    What is funny is that Alfreds brothers moved to TX without joining the church and many of them in the last 50 years have joined the church in TX.

  94. Julie (Comment 86),

    I’ll delay shooting holes through the “recent apostles have 3.8 kids” argument until I’ve shown that it supports my position: even with the statistical slicing necessary to arrive at the 3.8 fertility rate, you’ve still set the standard a full point above the Mormon average. If we’re to gauge God’s expectations about “multiplying” by looking to the most recent six apostles, as you suggest, then we agree that, if the Mormon fertility rate is far below that, which it is, then Mormons aren’t having as many kids as they should. That’s what I’ve been saying all along.

    But unfortunately I can’t use that argument because it doesn’t hold up.

    1) My response about this argument when I encountered it in March.

    2) You’ve cherry-picked the data. As John pointed out, the fertility rates for the apostles’ and presidency of the seventy are significantly higher.

    3) Even without cherry-picking, a sample size of six is insufficient.

    4) We don’t know the six apostles’ special circumstances: infertility, miscarriages, health problems, emotional problems, etc.

    5) We don’t believe the apostles are perfect — they’d all tell us they’re not perfect and have made decisions they regret.

    Ok, enough of that, I’ve spent too much time already.

    As for your concern that my opinion diverges from that of the church, I don’t see it. I know God commands us to multiply and replenish. I know the apostles have “solemnly declared” that the commandment to multiply and replenish remains in effect. I know that the prophets have encouraged us to have many children. I know that the number of children we should have is between us and God. I know that President Faust has recently said declining fertility rates are evidence that people do not value children as they should.

  95. Matt,

    Slow down. I was NOT suggesting that any couple base their fertility decisions on what various Church leaders have chosen. All I was doing was using the 3.8 as evidence that a low(ish) fertility rate CANNOT be taken automatically as evidence of materialism because while I am comfortable with the idea that the Q12 isn’t perfect, I’m not at all going to countenance the idea that they made childbearing decisions based on materialistic desires. I just don’t see it. I only mentioned it to refute your premise (with which this discussion began, on another thread) that there was a natural assumption that low(er) fertility rates had any necessary relationship to materialism.

    My position all along has been thus: the official counsel of the Church is NOT that one have as many children as one can. This is not a reasonable interpretation of the phrase ‘multiply and replenish the earth.’ The counsel of the Church is that a couple prayerfully decide when and how many children to have. Consequently, when we see couples with 0, 1, 2, etc. children, we cannot assume that they are materialistic. We should assume that they have been inspired in their decisions. If they have acted improperly, God will deal with them. It is not my place to judge.

    Again, we seem to be going in circles here because you keep saying “multiply and replenish the earth!” and I keep saying “there’s no reason to believe that means have as many kids as you can.” You haven’t addressed this basic issue: why do you assume that m. and r. the e. equates to ‘as much as possible’ when the two most official sources we have (not the mention the evidence of the lives of our church leaders–even John’s 6.whatever number is NOT likely to reflect maximal fertility) namely, the GHI and TTTF, say nothing about maximixing numbers and everything about praying?

  96. Julie,

    I don’t consider “as many as you can” to be the equivalent of “as many as physically possible.” I trust most couples are not capable of parenting as many children as they could physically reproduce.

    In case it wasn’t clear, I should point out that I offered the ‘as many as you can’ standard when I was asked for my personal opinion on what M&R means, and never claimed that it was doctrinal. The final paragraph of Comment 98 captures the essence of what I believe constitutes “M&R church doctrine.”

    I should also clarify (for the umpteenth time, it seems) that I’ve never said a couple with no or few kids is materialistic. I personally know couples that are devastated that they can’t have children, and have not limited their children in order to protect their lifestyle. But as I have said throughout this discussion, I think the cause of the *general* fertility decline is the decision to preserve a preferred lifestyle. (This conclusion can’t be imputed to the recent apostles because the sample size of six is too small, and cherry-picked besides.)

  97. I wonder if some people limit size because of what they perceive as a parent’s duty to the children that they have. For instance, I knew a lovely couple who were Stake Leaders for the YSA at one time. They had five children and the sister said in passing that in today’s society that she thought five children were about what a person could afford. They seemed to enjoy a fairly nice life style. However, I would often hear here say how her daughters at Ricks and BYU at the time were always asking for their parent’s to send them more money. My parents did not pay for my College education, however, they did pay for my high school education and grade-school education by their choice. I do not think there is anything that states that a parent needs to be able to provide a College education for their children. Also, I think a lot of parents spend money on extra-curricular activities such as sports and music lessons. As far as larger homes, I think Real Estate Agents often encourage people to buy or build beyond their means. I guess I am saying that people are not materialistic if they see such things as the norms of society. This does not mean that such norms should not be questioned. I had a friend from Mexico who thought it was unusual how in America children generally leave home right at 18. In his birth country, families are close-knit and generally live at home for more years.
    Wanting to take care of one’s children is a good desire.

    Do I know for sure how pervasive this thinking may be. I think it may be common as a society as a whole but am not sure if it has infiltrated the Saints much.

    There are certainly a lot of people who have large families in the LDS community and of other faiths.

    These are just my thoughts. I am speaking in general terms with very little basis to what I am saying.

    I understand that the number of children that is prudent for one family to have may not be equally prudent for another family to have.

    I have respect for people who have one or more children and are nurturing parents. I have none.

  98. Matt,
    Do you know people who have no or few kids as a result of materialism? Because I don’t. I know a bunch of couples that have no or few kids for many of the other reasons we’ve stated, but none for materialism. Given this ratio of innocent vs. guilty (of disobeying your interpretation of the M&RE commandment), your evidence is merely anecdotal and and your conclusions judgemental. Unless you have met more people who are guilty than are innocent, your insistence on declaring the *general* membership as guilty is completely wacky.

    “I don’t know anyone that is limiting their children to protect their lifestyles. I know a few who are doing it for acceptable reasons. But I’ll bet the majority of our members are doing it to protect their lifestyles (and just not admitting it).”


  99. Rusty,

    Because I don’t know all the facts, I *can’t* know which couples are limiting their children to protect their lifestyle. But as Barb makes clear in her comment, many couples with nice lifestyles say they “can’t afford” more children. When people say they “can’t afford” something, it’s frequently not because they don’t have the resources to have it, but because they prefer to use their resources on other things. It’s the same mentality that leads people to say they “can’t afford” to make larger charitable contributions, and for members to justify their failure to do their home teaching because they’re “too busy” or “don’t have time.”

    In all of these cases, it’s a question of priorities.

  100. Hi Barb, thanks for commenting.

    You wrote that you don’t believe people are materialistic if they see such things as the norms of society, but I don’t think that is correct, because whole *societies* can be materialistic (or righteous, evil, overweight, etc.), as ours is, meaning that those who follow the prevailing social norm are, by definition, materialistic (or righteous, evil, overweight, etc.).

  101. Matt, you know I thought about what I said about it not being materialistic if it is the norm afterwards. I am glad you commented on such. To a degree, I think there is some truth in what I said. For instance, the people today seem accustomed to a lifestyle of having a car, a few televisions, phones, and dvd’s, running plumbling. I have been told the standard of living that the poor here enjoy is often higher than what people in other people enjoy. Yet, we think nothing of having these things for the most part as they are so part of our culture. Yet, I agree that if it becomes the norm to put material goods ahead of what really matters in the eternal perspective then such a norm would be materialistic. Does that make sense? It does to me at any rate as I know what I mean. 🙂

    I do know that many people on faith have more children than people would reasonably think that they could afford. My Institute teacher had ten children. He often cited how it does not work out on paper but somehow they usually were able to manage. For instance, someone would just happen to have a coat to give away that fit their daughter.

    Shifting to my Catholic rearing identity here. 🙂 As many know the Catholic Church opposes birth control to this day except for rare cases. I went to what I would consider to be a somwhat elite all girl’s Catholic high school as many of their families were quite wealthy. There seemed to be an emphasis to get educations and careers going somewhat before starting to have children. My religion teacher Senior year seemed to encourage people to use whatever means within Church teachings to limit family size and seemed to speak low of having too many children. That may have been more her philosphy than current Church teaching.

    I think it is interesting to note that certain teachings that are Church has taught are being shown to be wise in the world’s eyes now. When a lot of women were studied who were high in companies, it was learned that a high proportion of them did not have any children. When asked if it was by choice, many of them said that it was not but rather that they put off having children too long and thereby that was likely the cause of their fertility problems. I believe it was someone who espoused to be a feminist who did this study. So there are many who are wanting people to get the word out that women are most fertile in early twenties and after 32 can really slow down or in some cases go to a halt. They want women to know that if they want to have children, they have a better chance when they are young.

    Also, there is a trend of women that are highly educated and have gone to Ivy League School including in some cases Law School, taking time out of the work force to be stay at home mom’s. I saw a feminist woman who decried this as almost their being traitors to the movement as she said some of these women had the potential to head CEO companies. She consisdered herself to be a philosphor. I was a little outraged at her lack of willingness to let these women have choice. Upon reflecting on the ract that she had to fight her way up the ladder and often her men coworkers would snub her, I guess I could relate to her more.

    I am glad to see the trend of more women choosing to stay home to raise their children. I realize that is not always possible.

  102. typo I was trying to say that those people who are considered lower class enjoy a higher standard of living than is enjoyed by many people in other countries.

  103. It is my considered opinion that most people taking offense are simply grievance collectors with too much time on their hands. Indeed, I have found that habitual offense-taking is symptom of idleness. My response to people who are up in arms over something: mow the lawn or clean out the fridge. If your lawn and fridge are fine, then find someone else whose lawn needs mowing or fridge needs cleaning and give ’em a hand. If you keep this up, sooner or later you’ll be too busy to sit around gasping at the perceived gaffs of others.

  104. Man I always knew I was a sinner, now I know why!! Thanks you sooooo much for letting me know what a horrible woman i am because i’ve been married for 4 years and -GASP- have zero kids!! I must be a horrilbe justifier who cannot interpret the word of the prophets and is LYING about all personal revelation recieved. I am just too darn materialistic.

    Thats why I live in the projects.
    And why I quit school so we could afford rent while my husband finished, putting emphasis on HIS education because we are trying to perpare ourselves for a future – even in this economy and real estate market – where I can be a full time stay at home mom.
    And we dont have cable. or -gasp- cell phones. or havn’t bought clothing in over 2 years.
    I also dont have car insurance.
    Or health insurance (makes it mighty difficult to provide proper care for myself and child were I to get pregnant)

    You have to balance when and how many kids with being prepared, getting an education, and staying out of debt.
    Had we had kids right away and not used any birth control we would be being supported by either 1)our parents 2) the gubment or 3) the church. My husband will also have to be working to support us while trying to finish school, making it increasinly difficult to actually finish school Omg…how many of our friends do we know where they ‘did what they were supposed to and didnt wait’ and now the wife has to work full time, the husband is working part time and only going to school part time, so hes never goign to finsih…so the wife is never going to be able to quit and be a stay at home mom, AND shes missing the best years of her baby’s life.

    The fact is, if we wait a couple lousy years and save our money, and my husband is able to focus on his education and building his portfolio/resume so he cant get a good enough job to be the provider for the family, then we will be able to better provide for our kids, be better parents, avoid excessive debt, and be able to save enough for our kids missions, a mission for us when he retires, etc etc

    Throwing caution to the wind and taking a blind leap of faith and having kids without any preparation is foolishiness and contridicts everything the brethren teach us. In addition, NO ONE, should have to go through the lengthy justification I just did to nosy judgemental and hypocritcal members who think they know better than you whats best for your family. To the Matt Evans of the world:

  105. Matt,

    I doubt that there are many people who consciously ascribe decisions to materialism. Does anyone really say “We stopped at three because we couldn’t fit any more into our new car, and we certainly wouldn’t want to buy a used car now, would we? I mean, how tacky would that look? Also, if we had had to pay for prenatal vitamins, I wouldn’t have been able to buy that snazzy new suit I had my eye on.”

    On the other hand, budgetary considerations probably enter as one factor in many peoples’ decisions.

    When does prudent consideration of the budget (“We cannot afford a bigger house, and we already have kids sleeping in the kitchen because the bedrooms are full”) cross over into materialism (“I’d have to sell my Ferarri”)? It’s not always clear. In any case, I don’t know that it’s our business to be ascribing materialism to others’ budgetary decisions. God knows where that boudary lies for each individual, but we as mortals certainly do not.

  106. Point 1) A sinner said, “In addition, NO ONE, should have to go through the lengthy justification I just did…”

    That’s true and yet you chose to do it. Why? Didn’t look like Matt Evans asked you do so why do you feel the need to justify your position? If I were you (and I am in that I’ve been married 4 years don’t have children), I know why and the Lord knows why and that’s all that matters. I don’t owe justifications let alone give them with the angry caveat of why I don’t owe justifications.

    Point 2) A general note, a connection between # of kids and materialism, I don’t know but this article in Deseret News today certainly helps explain Utah’s skyrocketing bankruptcy rate.

  107. In part Im playing devils advocate (hence the inflammatory name). But, earlier Matt asked for legimate reasons why people choose to wait or have fewer kids that he thought were acceptable. I provided my reasons. In truth there are as many reasons as there are people. The fact is, (in my experience-and Im not even in utah…) I am constantly running into members when Im new in a ward or whatever who are taken aback that I dont have kids, have ostracized me from the ward, not giving me a visiting teaching assignment, and plainly told me Im not following the commandments. It has been a major trial in my life and Im sick to death of nosy members judging me for something that is an incredibly personal decision. Now to go with the original discussion, Im not going to be offended if we have a lesson on having children or even ‘not putting it off’. I cannot wait to have kids. However, many in this discussion have taken it a step further and that sort of attitude is way out of line.

  108. A sinner,

    I haven’t judged you, and haven’t ostracized anyone in your position or told them they’re not keeping the commandments. I’m sorry that you felt judged, but as I’ve said many times, I’m not in a position to judge you or any other person. I have only lamented the fact that Mormons are *collectively* choosing to have more of everything except children. As you say, you’re not valuing a comfortable lifestyle over children, and I think that’s great.

    It’s the same observation that causes me to lament the way Mormons spend their resources in the face of our brothers and sisters around the world struggling to acquire the essentials. When our charitable giving goes down during times of prosperity, our priorities are out of whack. (Though noting that fact would apparently lead lots of people to complain that they’re being judged.)

    I completely agree that a balance must be struck between having kids and securing a suitable lifestyle for them and for us. As the Deseret News article Adeline linked to makes clear, our consumerist and convenience-driven natures are driving the lifestyle standard up, and we need to be conscious of that fact so we can keep our priorities straight.

    – Another sinner

  109. I’ve been skimming this, so I’m a little out of context. I know I’ve shared this on other blogs, maybe this one as well, but it bears repeating. It’s better to give a resentment than to have one (AA).

    So, to the bishop’s wife who was insensitive, instead of suffering in silence over her insensitivity, why not say, “what are you, the biggest moron on the planet? Your comment shows you have the IQ of a dying fly. And you’re fat, too.” I’ve tried this sort of thing and it’s true, it’s better to give one than to have one.

  110. DKL, by your reasoning, if someone is a workaholic, then they would not hold grudges or become offended. I have known hard working people who have harbored grudges. There are good people who sometimes have to work to overcome feelings of resentment. According to one of those personality theories where people are put into little boxes, there are take charge oriented people who are very good task masters and they seldom take offense becaust that is not their frame of mind. On the other hand, some of the more peaceable people are often inclined per this theory to hold things in and feel resentment. I think history bears out that many hard working people have had their issues of resentment to overcome in their life experiences. If you do not have such a character flaw, I am not sure if you are in the majority or minority.

    Having a more individual driven society rather than utilitarian society, may make one more prone to feeling offended. If you are seeking the common good and the goals for all, your focus is likely to be different as it is in many societies where people work hard to survive. When it comes to survival, selfishness cannot coexist. Also, as my govenment teacher in high school said, the people who complain the most are often those that are not involved in any groups. When one is out there taking risks and doing the job, you see how hard it is and are less prone to criticize. So I guess I agree with you in some ways. However, I do not want to take lightly those who have had to muster up a lot of strength to overcome personal barriers of being offended.

    This is my opinion. I could be wrong. I want to go on record saying that I am very easy to offend so please do not rip me apart if I have any fallacies in my reasoning. Please be nice.

  111. DKL, I realized that it is not fair of me to give an honest evaluation of what my opinions are of your statement without allowing you the same courtesy. I am sorry if I was trying to stifle anything that you may care to say. I have to be open to hearing constructive criticism. And I must add that I do not see you nearly often enough around the blog scene.

  112. I realized that I used a word with negative connotations. I do not recall the study that I cited actually using the word task masters and I should not have used such. The study did not put any value on one personality type over another. Those who were the one’s who did not seem to take offense seemed to have a lot of leadership skills and would focus on doing that, which is an important asset in this world. We need all types of people. Perhaps even the annoying types as myself. 🙂

  113. While I certainly have sympathy with the woman who posted as “a sinner” in comment 108, I must add words of encouragement to those who do want to begin having a family right away out of “blind faith.” So allow me to wax very personal for a moment.

    My wife and I married when we were very young- both of us had just finished our sophomore year at college- Ricks College, that is (before it was a four year school). With associates degree in hand, we were not even sure where to continue our education. When the promptings came to begin a family, I was at BYU and my wife was at UVSC, and we had not even been married a full year yet. Both of us worked full time in addition to going to school, and our joint income was comfortable for those first months.

    Then we had a baby right during my junior year. Andrea, feeling like she wanted to be a stay at home mother, dropped out of school and quit her job. Our income was suddenly cut in half. I continued working full time and going to school full time (usually taking between 14-18 credits a semester).

    During the following years, through two masters degrees, a juris doctorate, and two more children, we fully put our trust in the Lord (perhaps “blindly”- we certainly heard comments from time to time to that effect, basically gossiping that we were foolish for starting a family so early) and we were not disappointed. I was able to graduate with very little student loan debt (none from law school- some from the degree attained overseas), with Andrea having been a stay at home mom the entire time, and with no assistance from parents, family, or the Church. There were many times when we did not know how we would live for another month. Occasionally they were stressful, but always faith-promoting. The Lord always provided in His way. It was amazing.

    Most people not of our faith are flabbergasted when they hear that I made it through so many degrees with so many children (compared to the average single student), a stay-at-home wife, and so little debt.

    The point is that, unlike the discouraging scenario outlined by “a sinner” (how many of our friends do we know where they ‘did what they were supposed to and didnt wait’ and now the wife has to work full time, the husband is working part time and only going to school part time, so hes never goign to finsih…so the wife is never going to be able to quit and be a stay at home mom, AND shes missing the best years of her baby’s life…), the Lord CAN and DOES provide for those of us who choose not to put off having a family- I am a living witness of this!

    That said, however, “a sinner” is right that it is absolutely nobody’s business why this or that couple has no children. And, in my opinion, unless you are a part of the general church leadership or a bishop or local leader in a VERY intimate setting (like an interview) and moved by the Spirit to do so, you should not be making blanket statements about “ideals” such as not waiting to have children, etc.

  114. Thank you so much for sharing your personal example. I do find these very encouraging (and jaw dropping) examples of how the Lord provides a way to keep his commandments- he prompted you and he provided. Thats awesome. I am curious when this was? My parents did a very similar thing, however, it was in the late 60s early 70’s when things were quite different economically, and I do find it is this generation that is the harshest on people in my particular circumstances.

  115. This ended about 6 months ago, when I graduated from Law School and began a career (and turned 30 just one month later).

    So it was from 1997-2005.

  116. A Sinner, Jordan, 118, 119

    I have seen with my own eyes, myself included, numerous examples of LDS young people getting married early, starting a family early and making it just fine. My ward is full of people like this. If there is a will there is a way.

  117. I’m pleased that I am not a News Corp, shareholder! With the on going problems it is facing in the United Kingdomwith the now closed, News of the World. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp based in Delaware; is also facing a legal challenge from its shareholders. Shareholders, including investment funds, labor and municipal pension funds are accusing Murdoch of misusing News Corp assets, by treating the company like a family candy jar, which he raids whenever his appetite strikes. It looks like the trouble are just starting!

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