It is Sunday, and Mike and his new bride, Valerie, are up visiting Mike’s family for the weekend. Mike is a physics major and has just finished finals. He is looking forward to some much needed freedom, as well as catching up on neglected chores. Although Mike’s parents typically plant a garden each year, this time Valerie is particularly interested in harvesting her own set of vegetables. The ground was prepared last weekend, but rain has prevented them from planting, and even more rain is in the forecast for the coming week. Now is the time to plant! Unfortunately, contrary to the weather forecast, it also rained yesterday. That means today, Sunday, is likely the only day Mike and Valerie will be able to get their vegetables planted.
But Mike is concerned. He wants to keep the Sabbath Day holy. He approaches his mother and asks “Mom, is it okay to plant the vegetables today, even though it’s Sunday”? “I think it’s okay, but you should do what you feel is right.” she responds. “Do you think the vegetables will grow okay? Do you think they’ll be safe for us to eat”? Mike asks innocently. “Why wouldn’t they be”? mom questions. “Well, because, you know, we’re planting them on Sunday”?
Mike’s mom smiles a little at this, but recognizing the innocent nature of the question responds “You know Mike, in today’s global economy there’s a good chance some of the vegetables you buy at the store were planted, nourished, or even harvested on Sunday. And yet they grew large and ripe, and you don’t get sick when you eat them.” Still a bit apprehensive, but feeling more confident, Mike and Valerie proceed to plant the garden on Sunday after church.
Mormonism has its roots in the magical worldview. While this worldview has been molded and shaped, and is admittedly less prominent than in times past, it still carries on in subtle ways. I admit that I shared this worldview, in similarly subtle ways, before my faith crisis. Perhaps some of this is nothing more than innocence of youth, or one’s choice of friends, or one’s longing to be a dedicated Saint, etc. But I think the language we use in church settings encourages this worldview, and sets our youth (and adults in many cases) up for disappointment, and disaffection.
Recently, in priesthood opening exercises, a councilor from the Stake Presidency was giving us a special message. The Stake Presidency had been in our ward that day, and we had already heard from the Stake President. The topic was missionary work, and the presidency was emphasizing the goals of our stake to share the Gospel with more people. Specifically, this particular goal was for each member to invite at least one person to hear the missionary discussions each month. The Stake President, in sacrament meeting, had recapitulated this goal, and testified he had, since stake conference (when the goals were set), met this goal. The councilor, in priesthood opening exercises, also had met this goal, but admitted all his invitations had been turned down. The councilor then said (paraphrasing) “I testify that as we live righteously, and strive to complete the goals our Stake President has set for us, the Lord will place people in our path who are ready to hear the Gospel.”
I think this type of promise is a fairly common one. We promise, and testify of many great things that will happen if we are obedient to God’s commandments. Paying tithing, keeping the Word of Wisdom, reading scriptures daily, all have associated promises from the Lord. Because the promised blessings are vague, however, if one obeys a commandment, they have license to claim anything they want as a direct blessing from God. It is certainly a valid claim that one has financial success because he/she paid tithing. This may or may not be supported by reality but the claim, at least according to scripture, is a valid one.
From D&C 130:
20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
In logic, these scripture verses can be taken as sufficient and necessary conditions. That is, obtaining a blessing from God implies we obeyed the corresponding law. And similarly, if we obey the law, we receive the blessing. This works in the negative as well. If we do not obey the law, we won’t get the blessing, and, worst of all, if we don’t get the blessing we didn’t obey the law.
These two verses, along with misinterpretations of “blessings” and “laws” upon which blessings are predicated, coupled with the vernacular of grand promises in our meetings, gives rise to the magical worldview.
Having said that, I actually think the solution to squelching the magical worldview (if it indeed ought to be squelched) is also found in those same verses. It is up to us to appropriately understand which laws are associated with any particular blessing. Financial success (blessing) is not predicated on tithing. Rather, it is based on making sound financial decisions, wise investment, saving, and thrift (law). Growing large, ripe, non-poisonous vegetables (blessing) is based on watering, healthy soil, proper sunlight, and other proper growing conditions (law). Additionally, spiritual growth, particularly in the Mormon context, may be predicated upon adherence to tithing, keeping the Sabbath Day holy, fasting, etc.
I think as we more closely scrutinize the blessings and associated laws, our tendency to make grand promises for physical life, predicated upon adherence to spiritual laws, will decrease, thereby diminishing the magical worldview.
What say you? Is the magical worldview a setup for disappointment and/or disaffection? What do you think causes it and what can be done to diminish its significance in the lives of people?