Theological Twinkies and our Spiritual Diet

The scriptures contain a number of food metaphors. I’ve been working for a few years on an article talking about them: “milk before solid food,” “feast upon the words of Christ,” etc. But there are also some good ones in recent LDS tradition. Notably, Elder Holland gave a great talk called “A Teacher Come from God.”

The summary takeaway is that

We must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom.

Where do we get superior teaching of the scriptures from? Well, let’s talk about food metaphors.

When crises come in our lives—and they will—the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching “fried froth,” the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied.

What are theological Twinkies? Light fluffy things that look like food, but don’t really nourish. You can’t build a strong spiritual body on theological Twinkies. Sure, you can down one every so often without problems, but too many in your diet and you get spiritual diabetes.

I agree with this assessment made at a BYU Devotional.

Too much of the literature used, seen, and quoted in the Church today is just sentimental trash which is designed to pull our heartstrings or moisten our eyes, but it is not born of true spiritual experience. The tendency of our youth to use sentimental stories in Church talks creates a culture of spiritual misunderstanding in which thinking and learning are discouraged.

Beyond materials that mistake sentimentality for spiritual food, I would also put in the category of spiritual Twinkie much of the repackaged simplistic material and sensationalistic claims of Deseret Book, such as the Lincoln Hypothesis and Washington Hypothesis. These are highly problematic books with serious flaws, but we eat them up because they flatter us, they appeal to our preconceptions, they don’t challenge, they taste good.

Mmmm, Twinkies.

Elder Delbert Stapley once said in a moment of candor, “the Saints are suckers” (as quoted by Robinson in Following Christ) and Elder Maxwell mourned how our “gullibility” and “lack of theological sophistication” made us vulnerable in negative ways.

If we LDS are collectively having a spiritual diabetes epidemic, we are at least partially to blame.

What is the solution?

Real discipleship. Costly discipleship. Deep scripture study. Reading history instead of historical fiction. Moving beyond Primary-  and Seminary-level understandings of Church history, doctrine, and scripture. Getting out of our comfort zones in loving our neighbors.

In other words, “Eating your vegetables.” As Elder Christofferson expands,

“Eat your vegetables; it will do you good.” Our mothers are right, and in the context of steadfastness in the faith, “eating your vegetables” is to pray constantly, to feast on the scriptures daily, to serve and worship in the Church, to worthily take the sacrament each week, to love your neighbor, and to take up your cross in obedience to God each day.

We all need new beginnings.  Spencer Fluhman’s recent BYU Devotional on “The University and the Kingdom of God” is a good place to start.

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through the Amazon links I post. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box on the right). You can also follow Benjamin the Scribe on Facebook. If you friend me on Facebook, please drop me a note telling me you’re a reader. I tend not to accept friend requests from people I’m not acquainted with.

5 thoughts on “Theological Twinkies and our Spiritual Diet

  1. Lately I have taken to asking members in classes that I have taught, “What are things you have changed in your life because of the gospel, or because you have read the scriptures?” I do this whenever someone mentions almost rhetorically about the need for prayer and scripture study. If they give a half baked answer I drill further asking for specific examples from their lives. Several members have commented to me that they had never thought about it. They had never been challenged to think about what it all meant.

    Like

  2. Thank you for your thoughts on upping our spiritual game. I’m an early morning seminary teacher and fully agree that young people especially deserve more than Twinkies. (Donuts, however, are another story, especially at 6am, but I digress…)

    My concern is off-topic, and I hope you’ll take it in the kind spirit intended. As a long-time type 1 diabetic, it hurts my heart to see you refer to people who settle for fluff as “spiritual diabetics”. Please know that for millions of diabetic persons, this disease happened even though we live a healthy lifestyle and eat our vegetables.

    I have a special-needs son who also has type 1 diabetes, and he is currently serving faithfully as a full-time Church Service missionary. It broke his heart when he determined his disease would not permit him to safely serve a proselyting mission, and I can promise you he did nothing to deserve it. Yet, he has thrown himself into missionary service, despite his keen disappointment that he wouldn’t have an MTC experience, live with a companion, or teach people in the way he saw our local missionaries do when he went on splits with them. He really wrestled with a feeling of being “less than” because of his health limitations, so to see you use diabetes as a derogatory reference stings.

    I know you meant no offense. This is simply my attempt to educate on a misconception that can be hurtful to people who shouldn’t be ridiculed because they have a disease. There are lots of us who are true spiritual diabetics. It shouldn’t be a bad thing.

    Like

    1. Note taken. I have family friends, very active and healthy, and their daughter has type-1. That said, I didn’t want to swamp the metaphor by inserting a technical distinction. I could have said “adult-onset” I suppose. I also considered “spiritual obesity epidemic” but a lot of people with obesity, it’s largely genetic and not due to personal choice.

      Like

    2. I have a blind grandma that I love yet Christ talks about the spiritual blind people all the time, I don’t think it hurts my grandma’s feelings at all. I have a speech impediment yet I understand what is meant by a being spiritually dumb. I think the term “spiritual diabetics” is spot on and correctly used in this article. It gives a visual insight into a spiritual disease that’s very common in our day. Gifted academic writers, like Ben, can teach so much with so few words.

      Like

  3. Those Hypothesis books make me cringe, but I have a hard time explaining why to people. Telling them it’s ridiculous nonsense just makes them mad and stubborn. When I was homeschooling my kids, there was a fad that strikes me as similar — Thomas Jefferson Education, which was very popular in some LDS circles but I think is kind of gone now; it was propagated by a bunch of diploma-mill types. The TJEd books were written (as I suspect the Hypothesis books are) to appeal to people who want their kids to have a solid education, but don’t actually have one themselves and are ill-equipped to recognize the red flags. It was educational snake oil, but if you weren’t already in a position to see it, it was hard to discern. It sounded so good. And there are a lot of different versions of that kind of thing floating around the LDS world. Oh, like just the other day, a friend of mine was excited about the Church History trip she was going on….which turned out to be a Heartlander lecture tour. She said the videos are so interesting and persuasive…I just tried to warn her that if they started talking about how everybody’s apostate if they don’t believe it, that’s a problem.

    Getting that real education, or real testimony, is hard work, and I wonder how many of us want it, but are ill-equipped to recognize the Twinkies from the vegetables in the first place. How to get people to let go of a beloved Twinkie?

    (One further thing, kind of non-sequitur: my seminary years were distinguished by teachers who routinely used faith-promoting rumors rather than doctrine, I suppose because FPR’s are more exciting and they didn’t know better. By the time I was 16 there wasn’t an FPR I didn’t know! And as far as I can tell, the Church *has* in fact made a big effort to root that kind of thing out. I may be the only person I know who thinks Correlation is great, because of my seminary experience. So maybe this is a sequitur: things might be improving over time.)

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s