August 22, 2007

Sunstone Symposium paper


Stephen, my editor at Zarahemla Books, asked me to present a paper with him at the 2007 Sunstone Symposium. It's a subject I've ruminated about on the AML-list and elsewhere, so I was game.

Stephen approaches the subject in terms of the Campbellian "monomyth": this archetypal story structure, as popularized by Joseph Campbell, always starts with a hero who must find an "elixir" to heal either an ailing community or himself--an elixir that can be found only outside the community, both spatially and ideologically. Claiming to be the only true church and unable to apostatize, the Mormon church often sees such journeys as a threat.

The journey's negation, what I term the missing "second act," suggests that there is no need to wrestle with angels or argue with God because the proper resolution of our struggles has been determined. This is a rejection of the "neo-Pelagian" theology that Joseph Smith restored, summed up in the proposition: "by grace we are saved, after all we can do." We should embrace the challenge to "work out our own salvation" as an invitation to play God's fools.

To be sure, this is a phenomenon that pops up wherever unrealistic expectations about human behavior are vested in a particular ideology. As Kate has observed, Christian romances have the same problem with human imperfection that I've noticed in genre Mormon literature:

The particular Christian romances I am reading are evangelical, meaning that divorce of the unhappy couple (so that the happy couple can get married) is frowned upon. This type of solution is rather distasteful, and most romances avoid it. However, the alternative is so outrageously convenient that it becomes hilarious after awhile. The alternative? All the inconvenient people die. Slews of them! They drop dead like insects in one of those zapper things. Horrible husband--zap! Horrible wife--zap! Watch out, there goes another one.

But I'm writing about what I know, and in terms of the theology I understand the best, and about the narratives that seem to emerge as a consequence. If you want to wade through the whole thing, I've posted my portion of the presentation here.

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