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Friday, September 30, 2005 

The Chosen

I agree with Carrie Ann that the best Mormon myths are the celebrities that we somehow manage to imagine are Mormon. The reason why we do this may be related to what I consider my least favorite Mormon myth.

There is no place that really explicitly states my least favorite myth, but you see evidence of it everywhere. There is the "hanging by a thread" prophesy. There are things about this being an elect generation of youth. There is our persistent isolationism, coupled with the idea that everybody knows and cares about what we are doing. There is the notion that, in spite of the fact that BYU has a restrictive honor code and limited draw for big-time non-LDS football stars, it should have a perpetual top-25 (even top-10) football team. We think that we are chosen.

Perhaps I am still thinking about the foreordination posts from last week. Perhaps I am just tired of being a bit of a freak to people who think they know everything about me (JP's excellent post reminded me of many high school religion conversations). Maybe I've been engaged in Bloggernacle navel gazing too long. It just seems like if there is one group in the country that is absolutely certain that God likes us more, it is us.

There may be plenty of reasons for this feeling. We do believe that God blesses us on a regular basis individually (Elder Bednar's recent "tender mercies" talk is an excellent example of this notion). We also believe that blessings are somewhat dependent on our behavior. Since we behave well, and since our "pioneer ancestry" behaved well, it is possible that we believe that we have stored up sufficient good behavior to guarantee God's blessings on us.

This is the kind of thinking that got Israel overrun with Assyrians and Jerusalem destroyed by Babylonians and Romans. Chosen-ness does not mean that we are God's special task force, ready to step in whenever an area needs a spiritual beat-down. Chosen-ness doesn't mean that God will spare you because of how wonderful you are and how much more he likes you. If we are chosen, an idea that I am not entirely ready to grant, the kind of special treatment we receive is not the kind you want.

Let's take a look at a people whom we know were "chosen": The Israelites. There were the aforementioned Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans. There are the years and years of anti-semitism, oh, and the Holocaust.

The chief sin behind all the earlier events seems to be pride (I won't speak of the Holocaust, because God hasn't discussed the Holocaust). The Israelites were convinced, because of numerous escapes in the past, that God really would protect them no matter what, that they really were the special ones. It is this tendancy that I see in modern Mormonism and it scares me.

You may say, "It is different for us, we have modern prophets." They had prophets speaking to them up to and including the moment that the invaders began to tear the temple down. You may reply, "But those people didn't listen to their prophets." According to the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah was an advisor to King Zedekiah. The King chose to ignore his advice and you know the rest of the story.

I am not saying this to engage in fear-mongering. I hope that God chooses to spare us the kind of judgment that he has thusfar laid out on his chosen people, the Jews. Nonetheless, so long as we feel that we are already sufficiently righteous, sufficiently blessed, or sufficiently chosen, we face that same danger.

Getting back to Elder Bednar's talk (what with Conference this weekend and all), the lesson that we should learn from God's blessings isn't that we are chosen, it is that he loves us. No one receives any more or less of God's love by earning it. It, along with all of God's good gifts, is freely given to all who ask sincerely (and some who don't). If we are blessed, it is to remind us of our dependence on God and, thereby, to humble us.

This chosen thing. It worries me. Especially since we seem to believe that our isolation is what makes us chosen (much moreso than righteous acts). If you think the manner in which the Mormons will save the constitution will be with some sort of military coup or minority vote, I don't know what kind of constitution you will be saving. If you think it will be our shining example of goodness that we lead people to make the decision, then I'll need to see more goodness and less of the kind of thinking that brought Jerusalem down.

If we are chosen, if our wealth and our knowledge was intended to set us apart from the world, then our goal is to open ourselves up to others, not cut them off as dead weight. We shouldn't be a tower in the sky, forcing others to climb over each other to get to the blessings we enjoy. If we are meant to be lofty (an imputation that I might dispute), we are at least intended to stretch all the way down to the ground. There is room in our tower for all and as many doors as there are people wanting to get in.

Bravo John. Once again an amazing post.

There is much danger in believing you are chosen. In the words of one of my best friends moms, "Those who get puffed up go POOF!"

I imagine Amos (one of my favorite "minor" prophets) preaching to an audience that included Homer Simpson.

Amos: God says to you, Israel, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth..."

Homer: Woo hoo!

Amos: "...therefore, I will punish you for your sins."

Homer: Doh!

Amos 3:2

Chosenness doesn't mean you're better. Just held to a higher standard.

Excellent! Yes. I couldn't agree with you more John. It is one of my least favorite myths too. If you really listen to conference the message of the GA's are about getting reaching out to our neighbors-yet much of "club mormon" likes remain in their insular bubbles. I think it has to do with pride-but fear cometh before pride. IMO the only way to truly let go of pride is to let go of our fear of "the other" or "the not chosen."

But on a side note- my own personal favorite myth is the Saviour picture story. You know, the story about a man who is in the car accident and the man who helps him out looks just like the red robed saviour found in the missionary flip chart? Anyway, the artist unveils his portrait of the saviour and the man speaks up and says it is the very same man that helped him from the wreckage. Ever hear of that one?

I first heard this on my mission when one of my companions actually taught this to an investigator. I couldn't help myself, but I actually laughed when she said it. I feel bad about doing that now, but I still think its a pretty funny myth.

What a beaut John. I can see that this would be very unsettling to many LDS folks because the idea that we are chosen is practically inbred. And I might take the challenge on that we are supposed to be "lofty." However, I love your last paragraph and I agree fully with the two previous quotes (the Amos/Homer confrontation being particularly funny).

So the questions that my train of thought led to as I contemplated your post is this? Are we chosen? How, if so? Are we chosen collectively or individually? Does God favor those he chooses (assuming he's choosing anyone)? So I decided to do the best possible thing: run a search in the the D&C at lds.org for "chosen." (http://scriptures.lds.org/query?words=chosen&newsearch=ok&DC=1&TX=1&search.x=32&search.y=7) (sorry, not cool enough to know how to make a link to it)

Primarily it looks like individuals were chosen by God. And they were held to a higher standard (D&C 3:9). And they were given important, even monumental responsibilities (ie. "hanging by a thread"; D&C 1:4). And in a couple of places they are promised special attention and deliverance (D&C 24:1). But they became chosen because God picked them out. They retain their chosen status by obedience and righteous acts. The scripture says, "many are called", but isn't this an understatement? Isn't everyone called?

I agree with you that this too often leads to pride, especially in myself. I'm worried that I'm setting up a strawman by saying there is a dichotomy in the church with one half saying "be in the world but not of the world" and the other saying just "be not of the world." But it kind of feels that way. We are chosen (aren't we? would we be here any other way? could we?) but we don't seem to know exactly what it means or all it entails.

As to your comparison with ancient Israel, I don't think it was only this pride from being chosen that brought God's judgment down on them. It is probably possible for a people/person to have an assurance that they/he/she is chosen and will probably be protected because they are righteous. Heaven knows there are enough scriptural examples of this to justify the idea (especially with Israel).

PS. If you can write a huge article, I can write a huge response (right?).

Gosh. Enough with the compliments, although I do clearly deserve them.

If we are chosen, which I neither categorically deny or affirm at this point, we may be privy to more information or more ordinances than John Q. Not-a-member. With more ordinances come more covenants with more opportunities to break them. I think that we can consider ourselves held up to a higher standard because of this (ie. we have more obligations). Beyond that, I just don't think that we are more special than everybody else (I am fairly sure that God would like everyone to be equally obligated in this manner).

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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