I was digging through my old papers, and I found this amusing little article that I wrote for the Student Review -- BYU's now-defunct independent student paper -- when I was around 20 years old. It's particuarly funny that I saw it as shocking and controversial to expose the fact that church is no fun for kids...
"Tomorrow is Sunday and that's my favorite day," sings an adorable little primary-child voice. Unfortunately for the well-meaning parents of Mormondom, most children are not fooled by this sort of un-subtle propaganda. I have yet to meet a Mormon child that will honestly say that its favorite day is Sunday. The real killer, however, comes later in the song when the fantasy child sings "I get to go to Sunday School." Even the most imperceptive child can see that Sunday School is not something you "get to" go to like the mall or the amusement park. Sunday School is something Mommy and Daddy make you go to, like visiting Aunt Esther in the nursing home.
No doubt many of you are offended by my terrible heresy of suggesting that church is not some wonderful, spiritual experience that children look forward to all week, and I'm sure you can cite several examples of model children who have been trained to describe on demand how much they enjoy Sunday School. The reality, however, is that the Mormon church service is not designed to be fun for a child. I'll admit that the purpose of church is probably not to entertain children, but sometimes it appears that the general authorities researched all of the things that could possibly make an experience hateful and unpleasant for a child, and then they saw to it that the church service would systematically do all of those things.
As a perceptive seven-year-old I came up with a test that illustrates some of the various types of distress children associate with church. Basically, my little friends and I would ask ourselves the following question: "Am I cold, tired, hungry, uncomfortable, bored, and have to go to the bathroom?" If the answer to that question was yes, we knew we were at church.
Of course not all of these discomforts are directly the fault of the service. The temperature problem is due to poor design of the building's ventilation. The fact that a child cannot pass the time between classes by going out an climbing a tree is primarily the fault of pink dresse and stockings. Being hungry and having to go to the bathroom during the service are the results of the fact that children rarely plan more than a few minutes in advance.
These minor difficulties, however, are exacerbated by the one fatal obstacle to a child's enjoyment of the church service: Three hours is just too long a time for a small child to sit still and be "reverent." Reverence may be an important virtue, but it is a quality that is anything but childlike. I don't have to tell you that a child's attention span is very, very short, and that fact makes sacrament meeting particuarly painful. The length of time that a child will want to attend talks that it doesn't understand is somewhere between one and two seconds. The rest of sacrament meeting might as well be the eternity in hell that they are being trained to avoid.
The fun doesn't end with sacrament meeting though. The littlest children are gathered into a small room filled with other screaming children and maybe a few ancient, filthy toys. (They may not have to sit still and be quiet, but this sort of confinement is the closest 2-year-olds come to doing so.) Their older siblings in primary don't have it much better. Inspiring primary teachers are few and far between, and inspiring primary lesson manuals don't exist. I personally contributed to this problem when I taught primary last Summer. I managed to be a bit subversive, however, by secretly encouraging the children to interact with each other and play during singing time instead of setting an example of reverence. Perhaps because I don't have any children of my own I identify more with the restrained primary children than with their exasperated parents, but the way I see it, the parents have dug their own graves by bringing their children to something they know their children will hate.
You see, most parents should know better. If you were born in the church, you most certainly learned these same lessons when you were a small child. From the time you were a small child, you knew that church is no fun and you go because you have to. The tragedy is that very few Mormons ever outgrow this view. To be honest, church generally isn't interesting or inspiring enough, even for adults, that they would have reason to overcome their initial dislike of church.
This distaste for chruch attendance is, of course, passed along from parents to children -- yet another reason children hate going there. Children are more perceptive than you many think, and they learn on more than one level. If you hate going but you pretend you like it, your child will learn to lie to itself in the same way. The bottom line is that children who hate going to church will grow up to be adults who hate going to church.
As a result, most Mormons grow up with a philosophy that going to church is one of those painful commandments that earns you stars in heaven. I have heard many Mormons speak with disdain of other, more "liberal" religions that have recently made their services more pleasant in order to encourage attendance. The idea is that these people must be weak if they have to have an enjoyable service in order to keep the divine commandment to show up every week. This martyr-like need for weekly self-torture is reminiscent of the flagellant monks who were compelled to "mortify their sinful flesh."
Actually, I don't know exactly what the doctrine is reagarding whether Mormons are supposeed to enjoy church and be inspired by it, or whether they are supposed to prove their worthiness by enduring it -- but I think theoretically it should be the former. Unfortunately, I think that most Mormons, deep down, believe in option number two. Perhaps without realizing it you are one of the people that thinks of church in this way. It may be heresy to say such things, but I wonder which is the greater sin: to miss church occasionally or to lie to yourself and your children by pretending you're getting more out of the service than a mid-morning nap.
And thus we see the very thinly veiled hostility of the closet apostate attending BYU. As I recall, I was very proud that this article inspired the highest nubmer of angry letters to the editor all semester -- something like three!!! lol