Devotion

Devotion is properly understood as a non-exclusive species of love. One can simultaneously be a devoted spouse, a devoted parent, and a devoted Lakers fan without one type of devotion interfering with the others.

Overlooking devotion as a factor quickly leads to fundamentally misunderstanding a situation. If a devoted husband scorns a brothel’s gaudy advertisements each day on his way home from work, this does not represent the brothel’s failure to appropriately price its services or to offer a compelling advertising narrative. An analysis of marketing strategies and competitive advantages would fundamentally misread the husband’s imperviousness to the brothel’s enticements because it ignores the most important factor.

The same is true of religious experience. If you ignore devotion, you can’t understand what church members are doing or why, no matter how many power structures you lay bare. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do quite a few odd things, from wearing ties at church to avoiding coffee to paying tithing to attending meetings to teaching youth classes to loading moving trucks to visiting strangers. Often these activities are not obviously or inherently pleasurable, and if you try to explain why people do them without recourse to devotion, you have to resort to increasingly extreme alternatives. The explanations are not only insulting and condescending – the usual theories include brainwashing, mindless following, blind obedience, and enforced conformity – but also incorrect. Do not ascribe to fear or compulsion what can be best explained by love. The unvarnished truth is that my bishop is an authentically good guy, and the church members in my area are generally fine folks, and if I can make myself useful in some way, I will. And even if they weren’t, I’m devoted to enough other aspects of the church to get me there on time on Sunday.

You might ask: Shouldn’t we just love Jesus? Perhaps. But I don’t think the contradiction implied by the question actually exists. Loving God is not the same as loving your neighbor, but that does not mean that the two are at odds with each other. In the same way, loving God can easily run in parallel with devotion to the gospel and the scriptures and the prophet and your ward. Devotion as a type of love remains useful precisely because it is so accommodating of multiple objects, even if it does not aim quite as high as loving the Savior. You can be equally devoted to your business and to your calling as a Sunday School teacher; whether you have succeeded in loving God and not Mammon is another question, to be worked out in fear and trembling.

For a one-axis analysis of church members, the single most important characteristic is devotion. When it comes to classifying church members, orthodoxy is an awkward fit. If you try to categorize members by their orthodoxy, you rapidly get lost trying to figure out what is doctrine and what beliefs are compatible with it. Orthopraxy is not only an ugly neologism, but also of little more use than orthodoxy as an analytical category, particularly in a church that only admits sinners. I still rather like orthoglossy as a concept, but it can’t distinguish between sincere belief and hypocrisy. And even the perfectly orthodox can do and say awful things, or be useless pests in general.

Devotion, though, tells me something useful. Are you willing to teach a primary class? Substitute for a sick teacher on short notice? Bring a 24-ounce container of sour cream to a potluck? As long as you can manage that without causing a fuss, I’m not particularly concerned what your view of Book of Mormon historicity is. If you love the church, we can probably hold a reasonable discussion about historicity sometime. If you loathe the church and its leaders and the local members, though, I probably won’t invite you over, even if your views on scripture are identical to mine. Am I orthodox? I don’t know. Maybe I am, but I’m not sure how to define it, or how useful a definitive answer would be. I am, however, quite happy to be identified as devout.

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