I must admit that I am a podcast-aholic. Maybe not to a pathological level, but addicted nonetheless. I listen as I drive to/from work, exercise, mow the lawn, on my lunch break, on airplanes, and I even have a water resistant Bluetooth speaker in shower. I have an app for my phone that lets me listen to podcasts at up to 2.5x speed so I can listen to MORE podcasts. The app even has a “Smart Speed” option that removes pauses from speech (which it claims to have saved me >200 hours). At family gatherings my kids all make bets to see how many minutes (seconds?) until I say, “I listened to a podcast on that topic!” and begin to enthrall them just like Cliff Clavin would. OK, maybe it is something I should seek help on (or find a self-help podcast on that!)
I listen to history podcasts, personal story podcasts, overcoming racism podcasts, and political news podcasts – “balanced” of course. I listen to quite a few science related podcasts (You can tell I love science if you read my first blog post). I especially like podcasts that deal with how the brain works. This is what got me started on my blog post reviewing the book, “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt. I really like this book and could help almost everyone be more tolerant of people that see the world (race, politics, religion, etc.) differently.
I recently listened to an older podcast from Krista Tippett’s wonderful “On Being” podcast series. This one focused on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commission. It was very interesting how this commission helped that nation that was ripped apart by years of violent murders that could easily have been a never ending cycle of revenge, but instead often led to forgiveness. The amount of forgiveness to be able to look the person that murdered your family member(s) and extend them forgiveness is astounding. The term, “Truth and Reconciliation” made me think about how both of these words are really needed today in the Mormon community – both members, questioning members, and former-members. There is so much discussion about a need for “the truth” to be known/acknowledged, but what I probably even more sorely needed is “reconciliation” – especially among family members.
I also I listen to quite a few Mormon related podcasts. They go the gamut from General Conference delivered as a podcast and “LeadingLDS” podcast (I recommend for any church leader) on one end of the spectrum to others as irreverent as “Infants on Thrones” – and a quite a few podcasts in between those ends of the spectrum. For those that are not familiar with “Infants on Thrones” (IOT) podcast, my description of “irreverent” is probably an understatement. I could see them replying to being labeled “irreverent” with a statement of, “F#$%^ yeah we are irreverent!” They don’t generally soften anything when it comes to critiquing the church and I would have suspected they would have had at least a small bubble on the “enemies of the church” slide. I think they didn’t because they so offend a believing member stops listening in just a few minutes. I don’t think IOT causes people to leave the church, but some people that leave the church end up fans of the podcast. They do banter a bit sometimes at a Beavis and Butthead level, but in between humor and jabs they actually thoughtfully wrestle with some serious topics and questions. Sufficed to say, IOT isn’t for everyone.
I know nobody reads this blog just to understand my podcasts listening habits and I hope I have not lost everyone up to this point. I want to tie together most of what I have discussed so far with something I have noticed the last week in some podcasts that really resonates with me that I feel could be important.
Many of you will know that a recording was made of a conversation with a “disaffected” member of the church, Trevor Haugen, and Elder Don R. Clark of the second quorum of the seventy and historian and church employee Matthew Grow. This conversation was released on Mormon Stories and was followed with a panel discussion. The recording has since been withdrawn after some consideration was given on if this was effective and ethical given that Clark and Grow were not told they were being recorded.
One of the participants on this panel was Glenn from Infants on Thrones. I was expecting Glenn be somewhat of a protagonist and point out gaps in the answers given. Instead Glenn seemed to be trying to understand why ALL of the players were acting the way they were, almost like a sociologist in a role as an observer. At points Glenn was defending both Elder Clark and Matthew Grow for their answers and trying to explain WHY they answered as they did. I was impressed with the maturity and objective attempts at not judging as much as he was just trying to understand. Glenn went on to further edit and released an IOT version of the panel discussion titled, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” In part 1 of IOT version of the panel discussion at minute 36, Glenn states:
For those of us who are saying what is important to us or interesting to us [non-believers] is the truth, I think we are ignoring the truth of their [believing members] lived experience and we are not accepting the truth of their reasons for believing in the church. We are rejecting that. We are saying those are stupid reasons. And then how can we expect to have any kind of common ground or conversation?
Then in the part 2 near the 14 minute mark, Glenn really opens up on why he is pushing back on demonizing Clark and Grow.
I think one of the reasons why I am kind of pushing back on things as much as I am and not just in this discussion. I have been in this headspace for the last month or two as I am very sensitive to the whole us vs. them dynamic and the way that a group like the Mormon Church absolutely demonizes the world. And you saw Clark talk about that. There is us, we are great and everything outside of us is awful. That was something I really hated about the church. And I don’t want to see that now in ex-Mormonism as well. I don’t want ex-Mormons to fall into these traditional troupes and turn off the critical thinking and just go back in to us vs. them bashing. And I am afraid that what I have been doing with Infants on Thrones the last 5 years and Mormon Expression before that it is contributing to an “us vs. them” mentality. And I think there is definitely value in that in that there are people in the “us” group right now, the ex-Mormon group, or maybe in your podcast John [Mormon Stories] people that are still in the church and still trying make it work, but they feel separated from other TBM members so there is this us vs. them that is creeping in. So being able to validate, you are not crazy, we have seen this too, we have experienced that too, that is a very important balm. But then the flip side – the other side of that sword is when it becomes that we begin to demonize the people outside of us and we go back to the us vs. them thing. So I think that is what is kind of motivating a lot of why I am pushing back.
Then not more than a few days later Glenn released another IOT podcast where he used his newfound like of Jonathan Haiht’s work as a tool to look at an interview that his entire family had done a few years ago. The older podcast was on Mormon Stories with his siblings and his divorced parents to talk about divorce in the church. In this podcast Glenn is trying to look at how each person is behaving in that earlier podcast. Rather than poking fun at how his dad actually considered it a complement to be labeled a “McConkie Mormon”, he uses Haight’s framework and comments how he can see how his dad is leaning on his moral belief in authority – something very important to his dad. He compares that to how he and some of his siblings have different moral priorities. That difference sets them all up for conflict with their dad. Glenn seems to be tired of all the back and forth / “us vs. them” conflict between firm believers and former believers.
Focusing on the blame does not help the conflict. Trying to understand how someone with a different view could hold the positions they do can be a very good step in improving the relationship. Without that understanding and a good dose of empathy, it is almost automatic for each side to think that the other is just an idiot for holding irrational views (or deceived by Satan).
Whisperings of Possible Cease Fire Talks?
And when I thought about this, I realized I had actually seen quite a few attempts at improving the member / post-member relationships. I remember seeing some great suggestions on what to say and not to say by Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks for both believers and former believers. And I just listened to – you guessed it – another podcast called Mormon Journeys that covers advice for those transitioning out of Mormonism. The latest episode even has an infographic on advice for both the “person of faith” and “Journeyer” to help preserve relationships. Mormon Stories has also created a Mormon Transitions podcast focusing a bit on this topic also.
It is quite common when someone leaves the faith that it causes huge relationship rifts in that a family. I firmly think that in order to minimize those rifts it will take real effort and growth from both believers and non-believers to try hard to better understand the other’s position and not just “win the argument”. I feel there are some attempts even in the last few weeks outlined above that the former believer community is at least talking about this. I also see a little melting of the iceberg on the believer side with President Uchtdorf’s talk in conference that emphasized fear shouldn’t be used, but instead always love. I think that goes for both believers and former believers.
What do you think?
- Is this the start of at least some in the post-Mormon attempt to bring reconciliation to the divide, especially in families?
- Is this focus on reconciliation part of the Kubler-Ross acceptance phase when dealing with a faith crisis?
- Has anyone else found Jonathan Haidt’s model helpful in being less reactionary and more compassionate towards others with differing beliefs?
 If you don’t who Cliff Clavin is, well let me tell you about him. John Ratzenberger was born April 6, 1947, which is exactly one decade to the day that New York City ends trolley car service, which I could talk to you for an hour on that fascinating topic alone, but back to Cliff. John is an American actor, voice actor, and entrepreneur who has performed the voice of at least one character in every feature-length Pixar film to date. He is the voice of the piggy bank in Toy story. He is, however, probably most famous for his Emmy-nominated role as Cliff Clavin on the TV show Cheers.