Tuesday, August 28, 2007

further reading

I finished reading Orwell's 1984, and was chilled to the bone. While the imagined world in the book is more powerful and controlling than anything ever experienced, I couldn't help but find some parallels to the psychology of being a believing Mormon. Hey, it's my experience, it's what I know. If I were Chinese, I'd find parallels with the Cultural Revolution's brainwashing; if I were Salvadorian, I'd find parallels with the disappearances.

I found the concept and power of doublethink most striking, and shocking. Doublethink has many explanations, but one basic definition given is this:

"Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them" (pp. 289-290).

Cognitive dissonance, anyone? How about how I was able to belief in the creation and Adam and Eve, the fall, Eden, all that, and also evolution and the age of the earth? How Joseph did a bunch of immoral things, but could still be a great prophet, second only to Jesus?

The idea of crimestop was also disturbingly fascinating, and familiar, to me.

"Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc [English Socialism, the philosophy of the Party], and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity" (p. 287).

I essentially thrived on crimestop during most of the time I was exploring church history, when I was a Sunstone Mormon. Stopping myself from using crimestop could be another way of saying what I have said before, of letting the barriers in my mind crumble, of letting all the pieces of the puzzle come together.

There is a particular character in the book, named Parsons, who is perfect at doublethink and crimestop, at blackwhite thinking. He has bought into the Party line completely, so much so that when his own seven-year-old daughter turns him in to the Thought Police for talking in his sleep ("Down with Big Brother!"), he is thankful. He is glad they caught him in time, so he can be fixed, and returned to society without a negative thought--even subconscious--about the Party. He is willing to serve 5 or even 10 years of hard labor to be re-educated, to come back to unthinking orthodoxy, goodthink.

It reminded me of "ex-gays" in Mormonism and other homophobic religions. Just like Parsons, an "ex-gay" sees his own self as faulty, wrong, and in need of help and repair. He is thankful that the church is there to show him how to change, how to deny to himself who he is, and feel love for the church that "changes" him.

Another striking parallel with the book and the church is the rewriting of history. The present Party decides what is history, who exists and who didn't, anything that is true now (who the enemy is, for example) has always been true. People who realize that the enemy was Eurasia only four years ago, but is Eastasia now, need to consciously forget that they were ever at war with Eurasia. Then they need to forget that they forgot.

While the church is slowly, slowly getting better at admitting even its ugly history (Joseph's polygamy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre have been mentioned in the Ensign, for example), there is definitely a tradition of recreating history to make mythology--and calling it History. We have "forgotten," for example, that the first four presidents of the church made it abundantly clear that polygamy would never be taken from the earth. We have forgotten that there used to be death oaths and naked washings and anointings in the temple. We have forgotten that women used to give blessings to the sick and wounded. We have forgotten that Joseph Smith was in Carthage Jail for a crime he actually committed. We have forgotten that the date of the Melchizedek priesthood "restoration" is unknown (and yet somehow manage to celebrate it on Mother's Day, of all days).

Luckily, the church doesn't have "memory tubes," as does the Party, where all records of the now false past are incinerated. So we can remember.

1 comment:

Jonathan Blake said...

Forget that we forgot. Excellent.