Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The Sheltered Ones

September 21st, 2015 by MC

I recently watched an episode of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” with a bit of dialogue that perfectly encapsulated a thought that’s been bouncing around my head for a while. For those who aren’t familiar with Jim Gaffigan, he’s a “clean” but still very famous comedian who is basically a stereotypical Irish-American Catholic dad from the post-War era; his wife is more devout than he is, but he still is fully supportive of raising his kids as Catholics, with all that entails. He plays himself on the show, which is based on his real life.

In this episode, Jim’s wife invites their local parish priest, a gregarious young man from Africa named Father Nicholas, to go to Jim’s next stand-up, without asking Jim first. Jim hates the idea because he’s convinced that having a priest in the audience will kill the mood, but he gives in and takes Father Nicholas anyway. Right before they walk into the comedy club, they have the following exchange:

Jim: Look, you may be exposed to some harsh language and sexual content.

Father Nicholas: I think I can handle it, Jim. When I was eight years old, I saw soldiers burn down my village.

Jim: Yeah, but was there cursing?

That right there summarizes the modern conception of what it means to be naive, or “sheltered.” Sure, you may have experienced the full range of human life and death, happiness and misery, but do the movies you watch have a lot of F-words and nudity in them? If not, you’re a naif.

What first sparked this thought was the “Book of Mormon” Broadway musical. I haven’t seen it, of course, but I’ve heard enough to understand the general thrust of it. When it debuted, a co-worker asked me if I was offended by it. I said that the mockery of seerstones or Native American Jews or what have you was old hat and therefore not much to get worked up about. What offended me was the portrayal of Mormon missionaries in Africa as particularly naive about the difficulties of life in Africa.

Who is the core audience of Broadway shows, anyway? Well-to-do New Yorkers, people who use “summer” as a verb. What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks do those toffs understand about life in Africa? They sit there and laugh at those dumb naive kids from Utah who actually make the trip to Africa, learn the language and live among the people there for two years? Who talk to Africans all day every day about the most essential questions of life and how it is lived? Who do service projects for the poorest of the poor in Africa? The missionaries are the naive, oblivious ones? The gall of it is breathtaking.

When an upper to upper-middle class American kid ends up in Africa for non-missionary reasons, they stay just long enough to take some nice photos for their Tinder profile.

Yet we’re the sheltered ones.

In the real real world, not the fake real world that the media portrays, everyone knows that a young man or woman who’s been on a mission for two years in a foreign country is more world-wise and mature than a kid who was spent his college years at Club Med University, getting drunk and trying out the climbing wall at the new student rec center. The military likes RMs. Corporate America does. Pretty much anywhere grown-ups are doing grown-up things, being an RM is a plus. It takes a massive propaganda campaign to counter this obvious truth.

It’s all such baloney, and it makes it obvious that this notion of being “sheltered,” whatever it might have meant before, has become perfectly Satanic and Orwellian. “Sheltered” is whatever uncool people who don’t buy what we’re selling are. Sure, maybe you accompanied your dad to the hospital so that he could give a blessing of comfort to the old, dying sister you home teach. Maybe you heard her in such pain that you could barely stand to hear her breathe, but you stood there and sang her favorite hymn to her, out of tune, and she acted like it was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

But have you tried marijuana? Do you go to second base with your girlfriend? Pfffft. Then you don’t know what the “real world” is like.

I mean, shelter is a good thing! Without shelter we would all die of exposure. How perfectly Satanic to take the gift of loving parents, sheltering their kids from evil influences, and turn it into a vice. Yet you even hear this from faithful LDS parents. “Well, I agree that the public schools are cesspools, but I don’t think I could ever homeschool my kids. I don’t want them to be sheltered.”

The ultimate example of this is Christ. He never sinned. Yet he was “acquainted with grief.” Was he sheltered?

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness–they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means–the only complete realist.”

-C.S. Lewis

Comments (39)
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September 21st, 2015 05:12:06
39 comments

Bruce Charlton
September 21, 2015

@MC – Superb piece! I will link it from my blog.


Rich Wickham
September 21, 2015

Spot on.


G.
September 21, 2015

Preach it. I was thinking along the same lines yesterday. You’re a married guy with one or two kids living on a shoe string at school and your classmates who are living a perpetual party are like, “man, you just don’t understand the depths in life.”
Or you are on a mission, trying to do something very difficult, living 24-7 with a companion you may have nothing in common with, under trying circumstances. What you aren’t sheltered from is the reality of yourself. You aren’t sheltered from your own incapacity. You aren’t sheltered from the fact that your flawed character is a big part of why you keep quarreling with your comp. Your inner special snowflake is exposed to the harsh sun.

the accusation of being sheltered really means “do you even bread and circuses, bro?”

Orson Scott Card writes about this in A Storyteller in Zion, talking about Balzac and the bohemian movement of that era, which he blamed for the idea.


william zeitler
September 21, 2015

Fabulous article! “The military likes RMs…” I couldn’t figure out the abbreviation “RM”. (I guess that means I’m naive!)


Geoff B
September 21, 2015

Very well said MC.


G.
September 21, 2015

@William Zeitler,

returned missionaries.

I’d say the same thing about Catholic and Evangelical homeschooled kids I know. They have often grown up caring for younger siblings and doing projects and working little jobs, so they seem much more mature and confident than their peers. They are sheltered the way a tomato plant that got its winter start in a greenhouse is sheltered: healthy, productive, and full of life.


Joyce Anderson
September 21, 2015

Thank you for this post. I have thought along these same lines, but have never been able to articulate it.


MC
September 21, 2015

William,

Just a bit of Mormon lingo. RM = “returned missionary. “


Geoff B
September 21, 2015

MC, I shared this on Facebook and a lot of people are liking it and re-sharing it.


MC
September 21, 2015

“do you even bread and circuses, bro?”

That’s about it. When you tabulate what things supposedly prevent someone from being “sheltered” and which things don’t, it becomes obvious that there’s no real principle behind it. It’s a purely rhetorical attempt to get Christians to voluntarily let down our defenses, and to raise the status of secular life. Like a wolf calling a sheep “sheltered” because he stays safely within the fold.


G.
September 21, 2015

Reminds me of this post:
True Fitness


MC
September 21, 2015

Thanks, Geoff, that’s good to hear.


Ivan Wolfe
September 21, 2015

I am often told by more “progressive” members that missionary work doesn’t count, because the missionary experience insulates the missionaries from the “true” (whatever that is) experience of the culture.

I then have to wonder what their missions were like; of course, then I recall the many slacker companions who rarely left the apartment (I did go out before they “raised the bar”) and wonder (uncharitably) if there’s some correlation there.


Andrew
September 21, 2015

A brand new missionary I was meeting with matured quite a bit over the few months we spoke. My wife was really surprised at the change too. I was aw-struck at the difference between him and myself at 19 (when I was partying, skipping classes, and failing out).


Steve Evans
September 21, 2015

Good stuff.


carri
September 22, 2015

Beautifully composed. Anyone who quotes C.S.Lewis so eloquently is OK in my book.


Rebecca Stay
September 22, 2015

Great Stuff! Thanks


ChrisJ
September 22, 2015

My experience mirror’s Ivan’s. I’ve been told by progressive friends that traveling is a really great thing and that if I would do more of it, I would be more open-minded and come to see how wrong my conservative views were. When I mention that I spent two years in South America as a missionary, the response is “well, that doesn’t count”.


Mark
September 22, 2015

Chris, keep in mind the difference between quality and quantity. People who travel on a “if this is Thursday it must be Belgium” basis have no time to really get to know a culture. Spending two years in a foreign culture exposes one to a depth and quality that is not possible for the casual traveler.

Beyond that, even a mission spent in Denver is a growth experience for a missionary from Utah. College is a sheltered experience compared to having to maintain a schedule, take responsibility for the well-being of other people, and the requirement to step outside one’s self to confront and relate to people that are not like you and possibly have no desire to hear your message.


Ryan
September 22, 2015

Mark, college is not a sheltered experience for those of us who work part to full time to pay our own tuition, while maintaining high grades in difficult degree programs, and relationships. I think that it is a very naive comment. There are missionaries that go and just screw off for two years while their parents send them care packages and cash and then talk about how much they lived the culture and grew. Sorry, no. You didnt live the culture at all. You showed up and told people about a message. That is still a very sheltered life. I went to brazil. I was sheltered in my views and my perspectives still and i worked my butt off. I went to college and worked my butt off there too. I learned more as a college student with a wife and child than i ever came close to learning as a 20 year old in brazil.


MC
September 22, 2015

Ryan,

“You showed up and told people about a message. That is still a very sheltered life.”

First of all, if you want to reduce missionary life to “You showed up and told people about a message,” then I could just as easily reduce your college experience to, “You read some books and went to some classes.” That doesn’t really cover it, does it?

But more importantly, missionary life is “sheltered”…compared to what? That’s the question here. We’re all naive about some things, and I don’t think anyone here is claiming that a two-year mission is a completely immersive experience in the native culture. How could it be? The point is that missionaries, and by extension all Christians, are not shielded from knowledge of the difficulties of life just because they don’t partake in the more fashionable sins of our time. Far from it.

On my mission, to cite only a few examples, I 1) interrupted a suicide attempt, 2) counseled with families who saw their kids being pulled toward urban gang life, 3) worked with countless people on their problems with alcoholism, saw them relapse, then recover, and so on. Again, that’s just a flavor. I didn’t feel like I was being sheltered from anything, and that was in the old U.S. of A.

In fact, when I converse with my fellow college-educated whites about what the inner city is like, I find them to be FAR more naive about that topic than I could ever have been having served where I did, and meeting all day with the people that I did. If any of them claimed that I was more naive than they were about drugs or gangs because I had never smoked weed, I would have taken exception to that.

Finally, I don’t question that you learned more as a married college student than you did as a missionary. But that actually bolsters my point. You were an RM, living a RM kind of life. Would you say that going through college with a wife and kids is terribly representative of the kind of college experience that most kids have nowadays? Particularly the progeny of our cultural elites? I would say no.

For crying out loud, the best and brightest students in the Ivy League demand “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” so that they never have to hear a contradictory opinion or harsh word in their lives. If “sheltered” means ANYTHING, then that is a textbook example.


Katie
September 23, 2015

I really like this idea about being sheltered. I feel like I’ve had to defend “sheltering” my kids from public schools. But now I know how to approach the subject in a better way. Thanks!


James
September 24, 2015

Talking about what missionaries, Mormons, et al “give up” always makes me think about it in economic terms of opportunity cost. To whatever extent I gave something of value up to go on a mission, conversely everyone else who had those other experiences gave up being a missionary. Always on the defensive, we tend to justify the mission, Mormon lifestyle by touting what we got in exchange, but this argument rarely holds water with those who did or do not choose it, because they don’t value those things (they cannot, or they would have made the same choices).

Instead I find it useful and far more impactful to turn the opportunity cost on its head and explain why the alternative unsheltered experience could never hold enough value to have given up what I have. Would I traded learning two foreign languages in order to graduate two years earlier? Or lifetime friends for a series of one-night-stands?

In other words, put in economic terms, MC’s point that this is about preference is even more obvious, because preference is the last argument of economists that cannot otherwise find a rational explanation. In fact, minus the gospel, a mission experience is exactly what the unsheltered would call “authentic”. Ernest Hemingway left home and dedicated himself to a cause in a foreign country (that he didn’t even believe in!), and gained invaluable life experience. Who do the unsheltered respect more? Ernest Hemingway or the 1923 graduating class of the state U that they attended?

The genius of the mission (and the gospel more generally) is to provide authentic experiences to young people at exactly the time in their lives when they crave it. Young men especially have a desire to define themselves as individuals independently of their social circle. The mission can be authentic because it is real hard-ship and challenge, and deeply personal. I had to go on a mission to realize how silly it was for young people to do all the same bad behavior their parents did at the same age, but think they’re being rebellious, interesting and different because they did it listening to Marilyn Manson instead of Led Zeppelin.


eMac
September 27, 2015

Great article! I loved it. Why do RMs usually seem so mature. Because they are so incredibly unsheltered. Missionaries deal with alcoholism, drug abuse, broken homes, poverty, sin, etc. Not actions they do, but daily helping and serving people with these problems. They are with these people daily, really helping them to change their lives. At such a young age, they end up knowing so much more of the world than almost anyone else their age. They also end up with skills that a sheltered kid would never have. Also, missions are very hard. A good kind of hardship that brings maturity. Serving others, being rejected, homesickness, dealing with difficult surroundings, working hard all day for 2 years. Strange food, strange culture, far from family, strict rules. Not-sheltered!!

You don’t have to participate in a sin to know about it! In fact the more you know about it, the more you know you don’t want it! Kids who are stupid and use drugs are more sheltered than kids who know using drugs will destroy them, so they don’t partake.


Scott Berkheimer
September 27, 2015

I think this is a very insightful article! Well-written and completely accurate in its overall message.
That being said however, I have to disagree when it comes to homeschooling. It seems that most of your argument revolves around this idea that participation in sin is not necessary to experience the real world and to be “not-sheltered”. I agree with that completely. But even though we don’t need to participate in sin, we do need to remove any exposure to temptation or to people who do sin, which is what homeschooling can do to a large degree.
Going back to the C.S. Lewis quote, he said that you won’t understand temptation if you lie down when the wind blows rather than walk into it. You won’t know the strength of an army unless you fight it. Well I feel that homeschooling is running away from the wind and the army, not facing them head-on. We need to allow our children to face the temptations of the world and develop spiritual independence and strength. We need to teach them that they have the strength to beat the wind and the army, not to fear it. And I found in my own life that public school was the best place to do that; defending my faith and values in public school away from my parents is what allowed me to own those things for myself and solidified my testimony. It exposed me to a wider range of human experience and allowed me to experience other cultures and viewpoints, just like I did on my mission. It helped me develop empathy and understanding. We are taught to be in the world but not of the world, but sometimes we focus too much on the second half of that statement that we forget the first half.
Plus, sending kids to public school is similar what Heavenly Father did when he sent us to earth, right? He has sent us to public school (earth), away from himself, so that we could experience temptations and develop spiritual strength and autonomy. I think that is the pattern we should follow.


S.
September 27, 2015

Yes!!! My years living as a single person in the SF Bay area were filled with condescension toward me, their poor Mormon friend who just fell off the back of a turnip truck. My coworkers would spend their weekends getting high & spending $500 on one meal & sleeping with some stranger they met Friday night. Our ward tutored disadvantaged children who came from inner city, broken homes, and my weekends were spent helping these kids, doing my visiting teaching (all walks of life), and hanging out with other lds singles from all over the Bay Area. Yet I was considered naive. Anyone can smoke weed & get laid. It takes a true depth & knowledge & strength to live a pure life & a life of service. Thank you a million times over for this article!


Adrienne
September 27, 2015

You had me until “What first sparked this thought was the “Book of Mormon” Broadway musical. I haven’t seen it, of course, but…”

Of course?

Why of course?

Because you’re LDS? Because it has the F-word? Because of something you’ve heard or read?

You inadvertently provided an example of what happens when people are sheltered. You said you haven’t seen the musical, then went on to describe it. Your description was, of course, completely wrong.

You seem like the type of person who would actually appreciate the story of the musical. I hope you leave your shelter and see it someday. My RM husband appreciated it, even with the F-word.


Bookslinger
September 27, 2015

Adrienne, do you and your husband both currently believe the foundational truth claims of the LDS church?


Joe
September 27, 2015

How does someone who has been to the temple justify seeing the BOM musical? There is a specific charge to avoid certain things. I don’t take my covenants lightly. In fact, I suggest that a couple of hours spent in the temple is time much better spent than in the audience of the BOM musical.


JG: The Sheltered Ones
September 28, 2015

[…] Here’s another great post from Junior Ganymede: The Sheltered Ones. […]


28 September 2015 | Mormonverse
September 28, 2015

[…] Mormons aren’t sheltered!…sheltering can be a good thing… […]


CSS
September 28, 2015

Adrienne, actually not seeing the BOM Musical made his point more valid. His claim is that choosing to engage in filth or vulgarity proves nothing and may increase naivety, especially when coupled with assumptions that immorality somehow makes one educated and experienced with “life.” If anything, if he HAD seen the musical, his claims would be lessened.


Vader
September 28, 2015

CSS,

Nailed.


LanceThruster
September 28, 2015

It’s still a sales pitch. Going to help and expecting nothing in return is another thing entirely.


Pam
September 28, 2015

Your article is well-written, and I appreciated it very much. I am totally onboard with most of what you are saying. However, I do know upper and upper-middle class American kids who went to Africa and South America to volunteer for the Peace Corps, who were also matured and enriched by this unsheltered experience. Thank you so much for articulating this view.


GTO
September 28, 2015

Interestingly, our LDS daughter served both a mission and a Peace Corps stint (in South Africa). She worked with the poor in both cases, but of course, the PC experience was more culturally jarring, even though she was raised in 4 countries. However, LDS missions are far better run than the PC is, and that was part of her difficulty with her PC experience — failures not only in the management of the system, but in the morals of her fellow volunteers, or lack thereof.


Bookslinger
September 28, 2015

GTO, is your daughter ESO ? I’ve read her on the blogs. She has my admiration.

I served a South American mission in the wild and wooly 80’s. It’s hard for me to imagine any corporate, volunteer/nonprofit or not, as being more disorganized than my mission. I’m an anal-retentive OCD Asperger’s guy (IT industry), and disorganization/chaos drives me crazy.


surf rider
September 28, 2015

We can look at sheltered and unsheltered from all angles but I give credit to those young men and women who gave 2 years and 18 months respectively of their young life to serve in foreign countries and places within their own nation- out of their comfort zones. I would say that you should only comment when you have walked in their moccasins. As a public school educator, it is indeed a sacrifice and a blessing to experience numerous issues that our little ones encounter. Nearing retirement but still learning new things on a daily basis. Irrespective of places where you serve, you are never sheltered from all types of lifestyles and ideas on dealing with life challenges. It is a continuous roll-out of life full of ups and downs of life experiences and who are we to charge who is better than the other or who is sheltered or unsheltered? Just simply adhere to the fine constructive counsels of your leaders whether spiritual or secular, and you will never go wrong. I love reading all the above comments and I am learning everyday… taking in all the juicy parts and discard the discouraging ones. Aloha, a hui hou folks!!!


surf rider
September 28, 2015

We can look at sheltered and unsheltered from all angles but I give credit to those young men and women who gave 2 years and 18 months respectively of their young life to serve in foreign countries and places within their own nation- out of their comfort zones. I would say that you should only comment when you have walked in their moccasins. As a public school educator, it is indeed a sacrifice and a blessing to experience numerous issues that our little ones encounter. Nearing retirement but still learning new things on a daily basis. Irrespective of places where you serve, you are never sheltered from all types of lifestyles and ideas on dealing with life challenges. It is a continuous roll-out of life full of ups and downs of life experiences and who are we to judge who is better than the other or who is sheltered or unsheltered? Just simply adhere to the fine constructive counsels of your leaders whether spiritual or secular, and you will never go wrong. I love reading all the above comments and I am learning everyday… taking in all the juicy parts and discard the discouraging ones. Aloha, a hui hou folks!!!

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