Posted by: Loran Blood | December 3, 2012

Joanna Brooks: National Mormon Voice of the Academic Left

In a July 2010 issue of The Weekly Standard, Matt Labash wrote a disarmingly witty, yet strangely stomach-knotting, in the way that only leftist beliefs and perceptions of the world can knot one’s stomach, essay, the subtitle of which was “It’s hard work, politicizing your whole life.”   Quite.

Joanna Brooks is probably an obscure, if unknown name for most Latter-day Saints, unless one has immersed oneself in what has come to be known as  “Internet Mormonism” a favorite playground (and battlefield) for LDS intellectuals seeking dialogue and debate from various sides of the LDS fence; committed and faithful, apostate, and “cultural Mormon,” which is a kind of apostate that is not an apostate but is, for all intents, an apostate who, however, doesn’t want to be thought of as an apostate and in fact may believe quite strongly that faithful LDS who hold to the totality of the core truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are, indeed, the apostates.  There will be much more about this in later posts (especially as we enter the dark, heaving seas of political economy), but for now it is sufficient to point out that the phenomena of cultural Mormonism, while some of its members end as outsiders to the Church in an official sense, through either excommunication or by requesting official severance from the Church, Joanna Brooks presents herself as a “Mormon Girl” (which, technically speaking, she is) as well as, as her own blog mentions, ” a national voice on Mormon life and politics,” which she quite patently is not, and here lies the secret of the cultural Mormon phenomenon, a phenomenon that parallels the “long march through the institutions” of the the cultural Left that began in the seventies and came of age by the mid-eighties.

The phenomena of cultural Mormonism approximates the idea of the sociocultural, intellectual, and pedagogical “long march” through the institutions of cultural Marxism and its academic manifestation, critical theory (the generalized rubric under which are subsumed the various faux academic disciplines generated within cultural Marxism (which are really not academic disciplines at all but sectarian political ideologies masquerading as academic subjects and entire departments, of which Brooks’ own core concentration (aside from her major focus upon ethnic literature ) of woman’s studies is a central component) as it is, precisely a long march through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints, its core truth claims, its ordinances, most of its salient concepts, and its moral and social teachings.  Its purpose is the same: to accommodate the Church to the surrounding secular culture (to the City of Man, in Augustine’s phraseology) and its cultural, philosophical, ideological, political, and social fashions, trends, perspectives, and developmental paths.

Brooks’ purpose, following other dissident LDS intellectuals of note, can best be understood as a project of the domestication of a plethora of popular ideas, philosophies, nostrums, and attitudes derived  from within the overarching secular leftist popular and academic culture and in relation to which the restored gospel of Jesus Christ requires that we separate ourselves from and resist, and the grafting in, in you will, of these concepts and ideas onto the tame olive tree.  This would be, of course, the equivalent, not of grafting wild olive branches onto the tame tree, but of attempting to graft weeds onto flowers.  An intellectually and spiritually Frankensteinish experiment in “boring from within” the institution of the Church itself by a, scriptural speaking, “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who wishes to be thought of as one of the lambs (with advanced degrees, however, in ethnic literature and woman’s studies, which makes her something of an uberlamb, it would seem).

Indeed, as she’s been hailed far and wide as a spokesperson for Mormonism, one would think that her general views, perspectives, and values would be consistent with the teachings, principles, and foundational truth claims of the Church.  In thinking this, however, one would be mistaken.  The vast majority of Brooks’ beliefs and views are standard perspectives, worldviews, and ideological commitments that have been common within the cloistered, politically correct academic Left for generations now, and reflect nothing so much as an attempt to recreate the general atmosphere and temperament of the secularized leftist “social gospel” vision of the liberal mainline Protestant churches, Unitarianism, and the Roman Catholic Left, within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Passing oneself off as a “spokesperson” for Mormon culture and belief or as ” a national voice on Mormon life and politics” is sufficiently audacious to merit the expectation of dissent and disagreement, especially when the one taking these designations upon herself accepts, to all events, nary a single fundamental truth claim made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, save for its most rudimentary (Brooks believes, as far as I can tell, that God exists).

What she does appear to believe in is the holy Trinity of race, class, and gender, the abstract theoretical cultus of critical theory, cultural studies, and of the linguistic and administrative mailed fist of these ideological tumors that have grown within academia for several generations, political correctness.  She also appears to believe, in classic postmodern fashion, in the ultimate and absolute primacy of her own feelings, beliefs, and aspirations in relation to the contingencies of the external universe.  A case in point is her beliefs regarding her marriage to a Jewish gentleman in lieu of to a worthy LDS man in one of the temples in which she would not only be married, but sealed to that “eternal companion” for time and all eternity.  Her thoughts on this aspect of LDS doctrine are revealing.  To her family, she says in The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith, her choosing to marry outside the Churchwould mean that I was choosing not to be with them in heaven.”   But for me,” she says, ignoring the possibility that the church’s teachings on eternal marriage may very well be true, “choosing David meant placing my trust in a God bigger than doctrine.”  To understand what Brooks is speaking about here, one must understand that within core LDS doctrine, to achieve the highest level of exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, one must be sealed (made eternally one) to one’s wife or husband in a temple dedicated by legitimate priesthood authority to the highest and most sacred ordinances of the gospel, for time and all eternity.  Those who live lives of exemplary righteousness who are not so sealed may still inherit the Celestial Kingdom, but not the highest degree or plane.  As with all such ordinances, including the initiatory ordinances of the gospel, such as baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost, sealing to wife, husband, and children must be done in mortality, while the spirit resides within the physical body.  LDS work for the dead does vicariously for those who had no opportunity in this life to perform such ordinances, to have those ordinances provided for them vicariously.  However, those who, in mortality, willfully choose to ignore or reject these ordinances, if they know and understand them, will not have a second chance in the life beyond this to obtain the same “weight of glory” as those who were willing to be obedient to the gospel and avail themselves of these ordinances and blessings during mortality, if they knew of them, understood their import, and the consequences of rejecting them.  Here lie the fears of Joanna’s family.

In classic postmodern fashion, however, and in harmony with the deeply felt despisal within the traditional Left for authority transmitted through hierarchy of any kind (born of its infatuation with collectivist egalitarianism), Brooks, the “Mormon” girl, rejects the core doctrines of her church for her own subjective feelings and perceptions of what God should be like and should accept if he is to be her God.  Since all hierarchies of authority are socially constructed by the dominant, oppressive groups within society to preserve status quo power relations, and since “truth” is a wholly relative, subjective concept that lies within each self-crafting, autonomous individual and may be different and idiosyncratic based upon each individual preference, then Brooks is, of coarse, free to think that God will accept her refusal to avail herself of the covenants of the temple and that her truth, being her truth, and being just as legitimate and sincere as anyone else’s “truth,” will remain truth in the eternities to come and be accepted by the Lord on the basis of its sincerity alone.  Like Linus awaiting the rise of the Great Pumpkin, sure of the sincerity of his pumpkin patch, Brooks rejects “doctrine” for her own solipsistic belief that the cosmos will, in the end, conform itself to her will.

Little else could stand as such a stark reminder of the essentially adolescent nature of leftism as a view of the world and a philosophy of life.  Nor does her secular leftist worldview – utterly incompatible, and in many cases, overtly hostile to the teachings of the Church of which she claims such close association that she can be hailed as, in some sense, an authority on its teachings, history, and traditions – fail to provide a window of understanding into her immersion into what Labash pointed out was a key psychological/emotional investment among many of the Left – the need to politicize each and every aspect of the human condition and subsume everything under the  overarching canopy of power.

Brooks then responds, in her most recent Religion Dispatches essay, to the announcement of a reduction of the age at which men can go on missions from 19 to 18, and woman from 21 to 19, in this manner:

This simple policy change has subtle but far-reaching and potentially pivotal implications for gender relations in the world of Mormonism.

Then we see that “The old policy communicated different expectations for young Mormon men and women, underscoring that marriage was to be the defining spiritual priority for women coming of age in Mormon culture.”  After suitably negotiating the traditional feminist horror at the thought of marriage and family, we find that while  “their male peers enjoyed community support and recognition” and LDS men studied the scriptures and learned doctrine, “Mormon women waited.”  Waited for a missionary to come home to she could get married (as if men on missions aren’t “waiting” to get married as well) or finishing college (or course.  Everyone should go to college, you know).

While the Church spoke of “lowering the age requirement will significantly increase the number of missionaries who will serve by expanding the options for when they may begin their service” and of “expanding our efforts to give more young men and women an opportunity to participate in that divine commission”, Brooks speaks of such a change in policy as one that “levels expectations and equalizes life narratives for young men and young women” and as”communicating to young Mormons that studying the faith and preparing for church leadership is a priority regardless of gender.”

In point of fact, studying the faith and preparing for church leadership has been a fundamental priority for both men and woman in the Church since 1830, when the Church was established, and is incumbent upon all LDS regardless of gender or any other characteristic.  Brooks’ relentless ideological tunnel vision – her politicization of that which the church itself and most of its faithful members sees and a greater, expanded opportunity to spread and teach the gospel she has abandoned, speaks not to what the leaders of the Church have done this past conference, but only to Brooks’ uncomprehending debasement of it.

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