The Milk Ceiling

I just read this blog post at Project Deseret. You can read more at the link, but I would like to excerpt a few paragraphs out of that blog.

Most likely someone has countered your requests for an intellectually robust gospel (de-baggage the word, please) with the classic image of a penniless, illiterate widow in the slums of Manila. The conclusion is obvious: the gospel is for her. And how could we ask this poor, penniless woman for a sharp-toothed mind? How could we ask her to cut through conceptual meat when she doesn’t have meat to eat? She is barely surviving! She needs the milk of the gospel, and she needs it fast….

When we say that different kinds of religious strains will merge into a common experience, we are basically suggesting that— one fine day— a new convert will finish her glass of gospel milk and suddenly reach for the meat. Years of milk drinking, in other words, will have prepared her to stomach the heavy stuff. It also suggests that mature or experienced Church members will never eat their meat without their milk— that they will supplement their hard thinking and philosophical digestion with the basic principles of love and repentance. Sounds good in theory. The reality, however, is that we emphasize the milk so much that we effectively prohibit any movement toward the meat. To misuse an old standby, we create a milk ceiling between one level of the gospel and another— an opaque barrier that keeps us housed in horizontal rooms. Repeatedly invoking the penniless widow, we have given her no place to go when she overcomes her adjectives. We have made the gospel into a point rather than a vector with speed and direction, a dot to balance on in tiptoe rather than a moving line that takes us toward God….

The problem is that we have sacralized our limitations and made those limitations into a gospel, the good news of it being that we never have to struggle with big ideas. By doing so, we have not only insulted huge swaths of people— suggesting, condescendingly, that their poverty makes their minds impossible things— we have invented a gospel that will fail its basic principles. We have invented a gospel that is artificially self-limiting, a gospel that has come to prize self-limitation as one of its core virtues.

…thinking is not a hobby— because real religious life requires a tremendous amount of thought and thoughtfulness— the milk ceiling hurts more than thinkers: it hurts the whole Church and religion itself. To pretend that religion is simply a lifestyle or a regimen— to say that the signs of conversion would be a white shirt or an edited movie or the simple absence of alcohol— is to grossly misunderstand the agony, conflict and trepidation of a real religious quest.

It seems many religions view intellectualism as a threat. I do not share this view. I think it is important, and spiritually helpful, to struggle with big ideas. Yes, it’s not for everyone, but for those who want to expand their spirituality, it should not be discouraged as much as it is. What are your thoughts?

11 comments on “The Milk Ceiling

  1. Intellectual — is there any word in Mormonism that is greeted with greater disdain? Why is that? I think it is suicide to engage in almost any Church related discussion if you include that word. You can say you want meat rather than milk, you can say you want a nuanced view of the gospel, you can say you want a deeper understanding of the gospel, but if you say you want to conduct an intellectual inquiry of the gospel you might as well say that you want to start a study group with the devil. But an intellectual exploration of the gospel is what I want. In fact, maybe want isn’t the word. I think it is what I am compelled to seek. See, now I have done it, Lucifer and I might as well be in a book club together.

  2. Sanford, your comments made me laugh, because unfortunately they are too true!

    I don’t think that the disdain for the intellectual label is unique to Mormonism. Frankly, conservative protestants shun the word, as well as catholics. It isn’t embraced by Muslims or Jews either.

    Perhaps we could come up with a new word. I looked up thesaurus.com to come up with some new choices. What do you think of these as a replacement for “intellectual”?

    cerebral, sophisticated, thoughtful, brilliant, knowing, knowledgeable

    I excluded psychic, thinker, and intellect, as they sound to conceited to me. Perhaps thoughtful is the most appealing choice for me. Shall we have more thoughtful conversations in church?

  3. I agree that avoiding anything that smacks of conceit is critical. With that in mind, thoughtful is probably the best of the lot. But does thoughtful convey the intended meaning on its own or would it be sort of a code word. I think sophisticated is a particular good word for what I would like to see but there is way too much baggage with that one. Is deep too far off the mark? Does it cause alarm? Can you say you would like to have a deep discussion and not have it assumed that you are venturing into dangerous waters?

  4. I think all of these words carry baggage.

    Thoughtful is most appealing, but does that mean that if I don’t care to discuss a certain topic that I am not a “thoughtful” person?

    brilliant–not so brilliant (or dull)?

    Frankly, I think any of these words can start to carry baggage. Thoughtful is only a good word, until it gets the same baggage that intellectual has in the church.

    I really don’t have a good answer to your question. Perhaps we can use “thoughtful” as a code word until it gets baggage associated with it, and then we can pick a new word?

  5. Before I joined the church, I always thought being “worldly” was a great thing. I thought that knowing of the world’s matters, caring about other countries, and traveling around the globe was a great thing. I joined the church and now find it has horrible connotiations, and something we shouldn’t strive for. While there are a few different meanings of the word, this is another one where people in the church look down upon it.

    I don’t know if “thoughtful” conversations would even be necessary! I would go with “different” is all. The same thing is taught and talked about on a rotating basis. They ignore the fact that “fasting” or “the sacrament” or “prayer” was talked about two weeks ago, and still ask people to form talks and beat a dead horse on these subjects. Mix it up a little people! It doesn’t have to be this huge debatable talk on the mark of Cain, or Joseph Smith’s past, or polygamy, or anything of that nature (although I would certainly like to hear it at some point), but anything beyond the mundane would be nice.

  6. April, I have always said that “thoughtful” conversations are not necessary. All we really need are the articles of faith to guide us through the necessary things. But on the other hand, if we only talked about articles of faith, church would be even more monotonous that it sometimes is.

    I find that church doesn’t mix it up enough for me. I like to debate about these topics. While it seems polygamy is the topic du jour, with the whole FLDS thing going on, I am purposely avoiding it here for 2 reasons: (1) I’m sick of the topic, (2) I find other topics more interesting.

    Obviously, I’m into lost 10 tribes, Book of Mormon geography, church history, and other topics not discussed in detail in Sunday School. It breaks up the mundane “read your scriptures, pray, follow the prophet” advice which is repeated ad nauseam in church.

  7. Mormon Heretic –
    You could not be more wrong in your statement that ‘intellectualism’ is not embraced by Jews. No religion embraces study, education and debate more than Judaism.

    Take a quick visit to http://www.chabad.org and the topics in the top, left sidebar and you’ll see themes like, “Battle of minds”, “Challenge the Rabbi”, “Torah & Science” and “Intermarriage”. There’s an old joke that says, “Ask four Rabbi’s the same question and and you’ll get five different answers.” Outside of perhaps the most Orthodox sects, open dialogue and debate of traditional and non-traditional topics — even with one’s Rabbi — is welcome and expected.

  8. Raechel, I was paraphrasing Rabbi David Wolpe, chief rabbi in LA when I said that. I find the rabbi incredibly intelligent, and his views of the Bible are eye-opening. Let me quote quickly from Wikipedia from him.


    On Passover 2001, Wolpe told his congregation that “the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.” Casting doubt on the historicity of the Exodus during the holiday that commemorates it brought condemnation from congregants and several rabbis (especially Orthodox Rabbis). The ensuing theological debate included whole issues of Jewish newspapers such as the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles and editorials in the Jerusalem Post, as well as an article in the Los Angeles Times. Critics asserted that Wolpe was attacking Jewish oral history

    Doesn’t it sound like he created a firestorm because of his intellectualism? He has made several comments to the effect that all religions have a problem with intellectualism–unfortunately, I couldn’t find that quote directly, but I’ll keep looking.

    If Mormons find that everything wasn’t the way the Joseph Smith History says, or Catholics find that the pope wasn’t personally set apart by Peter, or Muslims find that Muhammad practiced the same polygamy as the FLDS church, this can be a real problem for believing members of each religion. Intellectualism is a problem everywhere. Sure, you can find websites supporting intellectualism, but they are generally not embraced by “mainstream” members of any church. These websites are much more “fringe” members, and are characterized as “liberal theologians”, and castigated by the more generally conservative church membership.

  9. […] blog of Zelph, who is struggling with some tough issues in Mormonism.  I also posted a comment in The Milk Ceiling about the Exodus.  I thought I would address some of these […]

  10. I have finished a document on “The Mormon Exodus from Jerusalem”. It is a critical review, but I would like some inputs from “knowledgable” people on the subject. I will send you a copy and look forward to your critique. The document is in Microsoft-Word and about 10 pages

  11. it sounds interesting. send it to mormon heretic at gmail dot com.

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