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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Deprogramming (Part 2) February 4, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Rants, Responses.
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So this will be the last post in this series, I think.  It’s been interesting to peer into this world, where devoting two years of young adulthood to being an overworked salesman for a religion (at your own expense) is considered an important Thing To Do.

For anybody just joining us, a while back I found this book at a used booksale:

This is not the official LDS book of rules, this is supposed to be a helpful guide, based on the author’s experiences, and those of many returned missionaries she knew over the years. It was published in 1968, but it’s obvious that some of the advice and tips in it are from many years before that.  I’ve been looking at it chapter by chapter, and it’s been interesting to see what’s changed, and what hasn’t.

So, back to Chapter 23, The After-Mission Adjustment.  In the first part of this chapter, we find out that returned missionaries often have trouble adjusting to the fact that they are no longer under the incredibly stressful rules and pressure that are put on missionaries.  And the Author’s incredibly bad advice for this is just for these kids to keep themselves permanently that stressed, so they  never have to make that transition.

So what’s next?

“If you return to or begin a job where some employees don’t observe the Word of Wisdom, and profanity seems to be the latest vogue, you’re apt to be shocked; you may even find yourself wishing you were back on your mission.  Life at home is not lived on the high spiritual plane you’ve been used to for the past two years, yet this is the real world you must accept and adjust to.” (page 208)

Word of Wisdom?  Since I’m not a Mormon, I had to go look that up.  Wikipedia says that the Word of Wisdom was instituted after Joseph Smith (and his wife) were disgusted by the clouds of tobacco smoke, as well as tobacco juice spat on the floor, at a meeting of the Elders.  Shortly after that, Smith apparently had a convenient revelation that Mormons should abstain from tobacco, alcohol, hot drinks (which the church has interpreted to mean tea, coffee, and anything caffeinated), and should consume meat sparingly and only in the winter.  (Apparently Mormons ignore that last bit about meat, because I’ve never heard of any meat restrictions among them.)  What I didn’t see listed was anything about profanity, so that’s still a mystery for me.

And, if a young man has been out for two years trying to push a religion on people who aren’t interested, how is it that they would be shocked by “strong language”?  I expect that there would have been a lot of “strong language” directed their way, and they ought to be used to it by now.  You know, like this:

And a bit more about adjustment difficulties:

“If you return to or begin college, you’ll also have problems.  … While your study habits should be good after the discipline of a mission, you may be bothered by the variety and volume of classes you’ll have to take, particularly since you will no longer be learning exclusively about the gospel. … If you served a foreign mission, you may have trouble thinking in English again…  Some missionaries have even felt nervous about making an appearance on campus.  They are scared to see students they know and even more scared  to see ones they don’t; they feel as conspicuous as though they were painted bright fluorescent purple from head to toe, and how sincerely they wish they could go right back to the mission field.” (pg 208)

“Another factor to consider is that you might come home feeling like a lumbering beached whale that can’t get back into the water.  In other words, you don’t know how to fit comfortably into the old patterns.  Everyone in the various branches of your mission field knew you and was your friend: now you have come home to feel suddenly as if you are an outsider.” (pg 208-9)

“Undoubtedly you will need to refrain from talking religion all day and all night to everyone you meet: it may come as a bit of a shock to you to learn that people at home are actually interested in many things other than your mission.” (pg 209)

All of this sounds like the experience has overall been a damaging one.  But there is at least one benefit from the missionaries having been on their own for two years – they’ve had to do a lot of growing up in a hurry.  Which means that one of the adjustment problems in returning home is coming back to a house where they are still treated like a child:

“While you are deeply grateful to your family for all they’ve done for you both before and during your mission, it’s not easy for you to give up your independence and become part of the family unit again.  You know how you like your bed made and you may not want Mom to make it for you.  You’ve been folding your garments and socks a certain way, and probably you’ll prefer to keep doing it your way.  You may even feel resentful if your mother comes into your room and gets your soiled clothes to wash and iron, since you’d rather keep them in a box or drawer and take them to her at your own convenience.” (Pg 210)

OK, first they can wash their own damn clothes now.  But this is really piddly small stuff to be talking about when you are discussing young adults chafing at living under the rules at home.  Bedmaking and how the laundry gets folded are the first issues to talk about?  Really?

Here’s a better example, though:

“One sister commented, “My parents are always trying to do things for me and I would rather they didn’t.  When the Sunday School superintendent calls to see if I’ll give a talk in church I don’t want Mother to say, ‘Sure, she’ll do it,’ but rather ‘I’ll tell Mary to call you about it when she returns home.’  I’ve been flying on my own for two years now, and I like it that way.” (pg 211)

That’s more of the real issue showing up.  By sending these kids out on their own for two years, the parents have pushed them into being independent young adults, and asking them to go back to being obedient children again is not reasonable.

So what’s her solution to this problem?  Does she suggest that the returned missionary sit down with their parents and talk through these issues, and set new expectations and boundaries?  Does she suggest that a young adult who is uncomfortable with the rules and restrictions of their old home might be ready to move out? Of course not!

“While it is true that parents are not always prepared for the fact that their returning missionary might have problems, it is also true that missionaries don’t always go the extra mile in helping to readjust to established family patterns.  There are things that can be done to ease the tensions.  Don’t be cross as two bears when things at home bother you.  Relax and be patient.  Let your mother rule her roost.” (pg 211)

Her advice for the problem, as it seems to be for most problems, is “Just put up with it.”

“One of the most difficult adjustments a missionary has to make once he arrives home is to develop tolerance for relatives and ward members who take the church more lightly than he has been taking it.  Then when he returns to find it is not the way he remembered it, or the way he had been hoping it had changed to be, disappointment surges through him.  He looks around thinking, ‘What am I doing here? Everything everyone is doing is unimportant. The issues they discuss and the problems which concern them are so trivial.’  He becomes critical of the people at home because he compares those who don’t go to church even though it’s only a block away and those who violate the Word of Wisdom with the dedicated saints he lived with in the mission field who drove thirty or sixty miles to attend church and who would almost as soon cut off an arm as not live the Word of Wisdom.” (pg 211-212)

Brainwashing meets hypocrisy.  These kids come back and find out that the religion they’ve been trying so hard to sell isn’t really followed by the people back home.  The obvious answer (at least to me) is that it’s time to have a really good think about whether this religion is all it’s cracked up to be.  Whether they’ve been salesmen for a pipe dream.  But of course, our author’s advice is just “keep the faith”, “stay strong” and “don’t be critical”.

“Another adjustment you’ll have to make will be with your own ego.  Out in the field you were probably a big wheel who commanded the spotlight in the center ring and the saints worshipped you.” (pg 212)

Yeah, I don’t think so.  If the missionaries felt like that, it was only because the people sending them on the mission built them up to think that.  As for the reaction of the people they tried to preach at, please see Granny’s reaction above.  It takes some serious brainwashing to convince a nineteen-year-old religion salesman that they are a big shot.

So, another big question, what about girls?

“Most missionaries, at least for the first two or three weeks, miss intensely being close to their companions.  They feel lost not having companions with whom to share their praying and studying, eating and talking, their problems, and even such tiny decision as when it would be best for them to go to the barber.  After several years of togetherness, a newly returned missionary frequently looks around wondering where his companion is; he feel strange when no one care what he does when.  Under such circumstances, how natural for missionaries to begin thinking about getting married because they find it so painful to be alone.” (pg 212-213)

That doesn’t sound healthy.

“Many elders return from their missions with a new feeling about girls.  They don’t want to go to see their former girl friends.  Kissing seems silly,  They bend over backwards to avoid getting serious with any girl.  In fact, some don’t even have any desire to date.  Girls don’t interest them enough to justify getting a date, dressing up fot it, and then paying for it.  Mission psychology has been directed toward keeping him from thinking about or looking at attractive member of the opposite sex, and it’s quite an achievement to come home and immediately turn on a normal relationship as easily as one would flip on an electric light switch.” (pg 213)

Yeah, she really went to the light switch metaphor.

“For one reason or another, the majority of elders recently released from a mission feel uneasy, unsure, jittery, scared, self-conscious, and even guilty on their first encounter with a girl.  Their first feeling when sitting down by a girl is that they shouldn’t; they don’t want a girl to get close to them and they certainly don’t want to touch her.  One elder who was a few minutes late getting to Sunday School his first week home was ushered into the chapel and seated next to a beautiful girl.  He didn’t have his baptism recommend book, his Bible, Book of Mormon, or most of all his companion with him and he truly felt forlorn.  Another elder had the socks scared off him when a former girl friend called him the very day he got home.  He felt as though he had fallen through a hole in the ice and couldn’t find the hole again.” (pg 213)

In other words, these kids have been seriously messed up by this experience, and are in no way ready to be involved in a romantic relationship, even though that is exactly what the church is going to be pressuring them to do.

“HINT: If your first four dates are misery, the way to lick the problem is to go on forty more.”(pg 214)

I’m sure the girls will be thrilled by forty more miserable dates.  But then she says something that I actually agree with!  Amazing.

“HINT: a mission can be a wonderful preparation for marriage because a good missionary will have learned how to accept responsibility and how to develop skill in the refined are of give and take.” (pg 214

But, since in our author’s world the boys are supposed to take all the initiative regarding dating, does she have any special advice for the different concerns of young women returning from a mission?

“Everything that has been said about an elder adjusting to girls applies as well to a lady missionary who returns and begins dating fellows again.”(pg 214)

That’s it.  One sentence.

So, finally, let’s look at how she ends this book:

“How blessed you have been to belong to a Church which entrusts to its teenage youth the grave responsibility of representing to all peoples of the world what we really are, what we believe and hope.  To have given a substantial portion of your own precious youth to such a movement should give you unrivalled joy throughout your life,  Finally, realizing that your mission is completed, prove what your mission has done for you by meeting and resolving the transitions back to civilian life with the same good nature, dedication, and qualities of personal growth which, next to the converts it yields, are the most enduring achievements of our magnificent missionary system.” (pg 215)

Hoo boy.  Wow do I have a different viewpoint on this!

The church entrusts this job to its young adults, because nobody is so sure of themselves and so unlikely to have become disillusioned yet as a young adult.  (There’s an old joke: “Why are universities so full of knowledge?  Because the freshmen arrive knowing everything, and graduate knowing nothing.)  Imagine if going on these missions were a job for retirees instead.  People would get a really different image of what this church is, a more accurate one.  The kids aren’t representing what the Mormon church really is, they are representing the way the church wants us to think it is.

Also, as I have said before, going on a mission is an example of an “honest, hard-to-fake, expensive symbol of commitment.”  (And I’m still looking for the perfect name for that idea.)   When a person has demonstrated commitment to their in-group by doing something ridiculously time-consuming and/or personally costly, for no good reason other than to prove group loyalty, the group knows that they can trust that this person is not faking it.  Giving up two of what should be the best years of their lives to doing something so pointless, and accepting the level of brainwashing revealed here, is an enormous personal cost.  I expect that the young men who have completed missions will have earned themselves a spot on the fast track to positions of authority in the church hierarchy.  (Pretty sure I can’t say the same for women, because there are no positions of authority in the church hierarchy for women.)

So has my opinion of the Mormon church changed from reading this book?  I think it’s a lot lower than before.  But I am anxious to have a chance to talk to some current missionaries!  Not about religion, but about what has changed for them since 1968.

As for the religion itself, I think this graphic sums up my opinion nicely.

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⇐Beginning of the series

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Comments»

1. jim- - February 4, 2018

A couple of things. The only difference between between the mission training center and prison, is your family can visit you in prison. As far as returning home, my brother that served a mission came home and got in a fistfight over reestablishing dominance with the brothers and then he fought with my mother over their Luke warm dedication to follow every iota of the law. He left home and moved to Utah never to return except a rare visit. His miserable life would make a good post but it would probably bore you to death. He is still in it 40 years after the mission and we are estranged. He is way better than me and his wife is a religious shrink that solves everyone’s problems but her own. The entire mission is a prison sentence. If any potential elders read this. DO NOT GO! Get a job and go to school. You’ll thank me later.

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