Thursday, November 13, 2008

Michelle Obama and the Price of a Loss of Religion

As I listened to NPR this morning, waiting for the gym to open, I heard an interesting opinion on Michelle Obama. (I tried to find a link, but I don't think it is yet posted. If anyone knows where it is, please let me know.) The woman speaking, Rachel, opined that the First Lady incumbent had a powerful image that was being made "more comfortable" for the American people. She claimed that America was uncomfortable with powerful women, and that is why Michelle Obama was focusing on work/life balance for women, military wives and other similar agendas. Claiming she was dumbed down for the American people to swallow her better, she said that Michelle was going to be the same First Lady we've had in the past. Her basis for this was that there was a lot of hype about Senator Obama and his children adjusting to the change, but little was said about Michelle having to "give up her identity" and her own paycheck and the adjustment necessary for that.

The discussion got me thinking about the view of motherhood. It was obvious from the discussion that Michelle was losing something by going from a powerful lawyer to a mom and First Lady. It was clear that the speaker considered a woman's value to be tied up in what she did and in having an identity independent from her husband. It is this sort of attitude I believe was criticized when the First Presidency issued the Proclamation on the Family.

Society has increasingly begun to view marriage and family as a mix between a burden and a luxury. Those who marry do so with a feeling of what they will get out of the arrangement. If you listen to the Proposition 8 riots and rhetoric, to much of the feminist rhetoric, and even to television and radio, you will hear marriage almost exclusively discussed in terms of benefits to individuals. In divorces, one spouse didn't "meet the needs" of the other, a couple "fell out of love" or tried to control each other. In discussing gay marriage, it is seen almost exclusively as a right with government benefits.

All of these viewpoints are poisonous. Marriage is not a contract with benefits on either side; it is a commitment. When two people marry, they commit to each other and to their future children. They dedicate all of their resources and time to the betterment of that new family unit. A person agrees to put the welfare of that tiny unit of society above their own individual welfare. It is the arrangement which best allows us to become like Christ, because we mimic His actions when He put the welfare of the world above His own.

Although many argue that atheism—a loss of belief in God—does nothing to remove morality—an understanding of the need to care and provide for another's needs—I think the root of all these problems in society is a loss of belief in God. For this purpose, it does not matter which belief in God you have as long as your belief includes a need to submit the self. Religions which focus on self-attainment or self-perfection miss the mark. I want to note here that Mormonism in practice often falls into this category, focusing far too much on self-purification and too little on selflessness. Our hands are not clean of this sin.

Marriage is not a social arrangement to benefit the self, it is a social arrangement to better the whole. Religion teaches this concept in a way that simple morality cannot. The Christian religion, since that is the one I know best, especially demonstrates this. If God, the greatest of all beings, was willing to lay down His life for an imperfect world, we ought to be able to lay down our lives, whether by living them or by losing them, for our imperfect spouses. I, for one, admire Michelle Obama for being willing to dedicate herself to her marriage and to her husband's glory, just as I admire husbands willing to work in a drudgery job every day to provide for their family, or vice versa. Marriage is a series of submissions from both sides of the equation. That is what the Proclamation on the Family has to teach us. That is what Christ taught us with His life. That is the value of religion and the price we all pay when it is mocked and trampled.


  1. Interestingly, within a half hour after posting this, a friend sent me this link. View it. It's powerful.

  2. Great stuff, thank you!
    It is hard, as a stay at home mom, to remember that success doesn't equal fame/fortune/glamour. Often when we are truly successful we get none of those things. (most likely poorer, less noticed and a few added wrinkles)

  3. Heya Silver Rain. I'm with you. There are only a couple statements here that I'd back off of, and then only a little. Over the last several days I've had an insight heightened, that is: the deepest and most important divide isn't so much between red and blue politics, it is between people who believe that the pursuit of happiness is mostly a matter of finding and exploring and _being_ one's unique self, and those very few who believe the pursuit of happiness is mostly matter of developing virtue, often against the powerful inclinations of the self.

    Keep it up. ~

  4. I just found your blog and spent a long time reading through previous posts. I appreciate your thoughtful discussions about so many different topics. I'll be coming back!

  5. Thank you, everyone, for your insightful comments and support. The things most of you say, here and on other blogs, has served an important purpose in my life. It is too easy for me to lapse into self-pity and feeling like I'm alone, but you and a few others in my life help me feel like I belong somewhere.

    Again, thank you.

  6. SilverRain,
    Thank you for sharing your insights- I really enjoy your blog.

    Could you explain more about Mormonism focusing too much on self-purification? I do see the issue of trying to perfect ourselves and believe that it is not uncommon for us to think that our "much activity" in the church (by itself) equals "earning" our way to heaven. I had never attributed this directly to the church though and instead considered it an issue of individual understanding and growth.

  7. Jim—It was Mormonism in practice, and not in doctrine I am referring to in the post. Doctrinally, I think the Church is quite clear, but in applied religion, I know I am one of those who find it easy to forget that Christ is the purifier, not us.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, and I agree with you that the issue is in practice. That really is the case in many areas- that there is often a gap between what we know and teach and what we actually live and do. I think that comes with being imperfect. About this specific issue of trying to perfect ourselves, I wonder what more the church can do to help its members rely on Christ more fully as we ought.

    I think there is an interesting dynamic between trying on our own to become meek, humble, submissive, charitable, etc. and relying on the Savior to develop these attributes in us.

    It reminds me of faith vs. works. Some may believe they are saved by their belief in Christ alone without any works. Some of us may err on the other end of the extreme in believing that our many works will save us. If this is the case, I wonder what it is that causes us to think that way....

    It reminds me also of 3 Ne. 14:21-23. Perhaps the key is try to focus on "doing" more for the glory of God rather than for our own glory....

  9. How interesting (and yet expected) that you would blame divorce on those great liberals of feminists and gays, when study after study shows that conservatives and evangelicals are FAR more likely to divorce than people who self-identify as liberal.

  10. Jim—Thank you. I think that marriage is divinely instituted at least partially because it is such ripe ground to learn humility and balance.

    Anonymous—How interesting (and yet expected) that the point of the post would be completely ignored in favor of focusing on a few examples that twinge your own personal agenda.

  11. Yeah, well, you know how us liberal types are - we like our agendas to at least be truthful. It must be so much easier to be the type who's willing to lie and mislead to promote her own agenda!

  12. Anonymous—And how much more pleasant it must be to be the sort who is willing to misrepresent and misunderstand others in order to vilify them so you don't have to examine your own perspectives and realize that there is good on both sides of any issue!

    Now, that I have demonstrated I can be just as juvenile as you can, if you're only here to pointlessly throw insults, I would like to refer you to the policy on the bottom of this page and ask you to refrain from further comment. If, on the other hand, you'd like to discuss the topic by presenting actual evidence and thoughts (which topic, since it is clear you missed it the first time, is how it is or isn't too bad that marriage and motherhood are seen in a selfish light by popular culture), by all means comment.


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