Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Analogy

This post (with only slight editing) comes from an entry that I wrote in my journal on August 17, 2010:

I was thinking of an interesting analogy involving the church last night.  I was remembering how I took Darren out to the Albuquerque Academy [exclusive private school] when he was finishing fifth grade and had him take the entrance exam there.  What I didn't know at the time was that AA didn't (and still doesn't) have merit-based financial aid, and though Darren was accepted, we didn't qualify for need-based financial aid (by most people's standards, we were, and are, pretty well-off, although of course our paying tithing and having four kids at home at the time made us a lot "poorer" than we appeared on paper).  I came to the conclusion that AA was a rich kids' school, and that the school administration was doing what it had to do to keep it that way.  Oh, it provided "scholarships" to less-well-off kids as a means of avoiding the "elitist" label and to assuage the consciences of the elitists who ran the place, but the fact of the matter is that it purposely made the financial burden of attending school there so inordinate to the means of the middle class that the middle class would be greatly discouraged from sending their kids there.

I'm sure there are middle-class families who make great sacrifices to send a child or two there (the D_____s [members of our ward], for one, sent both S____ and J____ there, although I understand that they were sufficiently "paper poor" that they got half-tuition scholarships based on need).  However, I keep coming back to this idea that the middle class must make wildly disproportionate sacrifices to send a kid there.  (Clare S________ [a lady I used to work with] and her husband send two kids to AA -- she works full-time largely so that they can afford it.)

Anyway, there's the tie-in to the church in my mind.  Clearly, there are three "spiritual" classes in the church: (1) the "upper" class, for whom serving in church callings is not much of a burden or stretch; (2) the "lower" class, who, being low on resources, aren't expected to do much (but who are, still, allowed to feel good about themselves); and (3) the "middle" class, who are judged to have resources but who, in fact, aren't as "gifted" spiritually as they seem "on paper."  The latter, in which group I fall squarely, can fully participate in church membership and even be highly thought of, but they must sacrifice at a level which is inordinate to their means.  Clearly, some do, but most end up questioning the whole notion whether the rewards are worth the sacrifices, and thus they "renege" on making those sacrifices.

Is going to AA that advantageous to a kid?  The quality of education there is presumably high, but are the marginal (i.e., incremental) academic benefits worth the price?  I'd say probably not, as it is possible to get a decent education in the public schools for a kid who is disposed to seek it out.  But there is one clear benefit to kids who do go to AA -- I haven't met an AA grad yet who didn't have an extremely high opinion of himself, and self-esteem (even if not fully merited) can, of itself, be a great reward.  Those who do fully "participate" in church membership, holding down heavy leadership positions, tend to acquire great self-esteem as well (regardless of how good people they really are), but I am of the opinion that the calling doesn't make the innate person.

In any case, I clearly have made the decision that the disproportionate sacrifices I'd have to make to break into the "elite" ranks of church membership are simply not worth the rewards, and perhaps it's simply because I've never fully bought into church doctrines.  I seem to think that the alternative (the "public school" option, if you will) is just as good, and a whole lot less-expensive.  That says a lot about my testimony or lack thereof.  But it is really difficult to be lukewarm as I am, feeling that even if the church is true, my paying tithing, attending church, working in the temple, doing home teaching, etc., isn't buying me anything outside of keeping my marriage together.  In fact, it makes my life miserable to such a degree that I often wonder if my marriage (or, by extension, my life) is worth keeping together.

I feel like Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler) at the end of Gone With the Wind, when he tells Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett O'Hara/Hamilton/Kennedy/Butler), "No, I'm through with everything here.  I want peace.  I want to see if somewhere there is something left in life of charm and grace."  I feel the same way about the church -- I'd like to live out the rest of my life (the church having mucked so much of it up to this point) trying to find charm and grace, instead of hating the world.

[Update, 9/27/10: The logical conclusion of my having decided that the Albuquerque Academy is an elitist institution, then comparing it to the LDS church, is that I think the latter is also an elitist institution, and I'm not sure I'd go quite that far.  There obviously are plenty of elitists in the church, but the people whom I describe above as the "spiritual middle class" of the church are, and heretofore always have been, its lifeblood, paying most of the tithing, holding most of the callings, making most of the home-teaching visits, bearing most of the guilt trips, etc.  The observation I would make, however, is that if this type of person isn't already a member of the church, the likelihood that he would be receptive these days to the missionaries and their message is slim.  Just as the Albuquerque Academy was way too expensive for us, the sheer expense of church membership (and tithes and offerings are just one part of that expense) is simply too great for most people compared to the perceived incremental benefits.  And thus the "lifeblood" of the church drains away, drop by drop.]

[Update, 10/2/10: I was impressed by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk in General Conference this morning, in which he actually acknowledged, and expressed gratitude for, the contributions made by the "little people" in the church.  What a rarity....]