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.”