Okay, the title of the book isn’t actually that—it’s actually The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. But that’s a mouthful, so I took some artful license.
This book is written by Amy Chua, of Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother fame, and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld. And it’s very, very, very interesting.
It’s a book that sets out to answer the question, “Why are some groups more successful in America than other groups?” And Chua and Rubenfeld have an interesting answer: groups who are successful have three things in common: A superiority complex, an inferiority complex, and impulse control.
And apparently Mormons have all three of those things. In spades.
Consider our theology. We preach that we are the one and only true church on this earth. The ultimate restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. That following OUR church is a person’s best chance for happiness, because we KNOW that it is the Truth.
Superiority complex? Check.
Consider our history. Our past is full of horror stories of how the early Saints were treated. We have been persecuted, run out of town, and every kid in primary knows the story of the elimination order issued by Governor Boggs. Our first leader was a martyr. We were forced to leave the United States, and faced annihilation from the US government unless we stopped practicing polygamy. We are “in the world, but not of the world” and we pride ourselves on being a “peculiar people”. But here’s the interesting part. Despite this difficult history with the United States, we want desperately to be a part of it now. Unlike, say, the Amish, who have no desire to be a a part of mainstream America, Mormons pride themselves on being good citizens and patriots. We are largely political conservative, but politically active in our communities, with lots of emphasis on being examples in our communities.
Inferiority/persecution complex with a need to prove ourselves? Check.
And now, to the impulse control. Mormons are excellent at teaching and practicing impulse control. What other religion makes kids as young as 3 sit through 2 hours of instruction? Sure, the time is filled with songs and games and interesting stories, but still, we ask 3 year olds, if not really to focus in Sacrament meeting, to focus in primary. And, for the most part, THEY DO!
Teenagers are asked to refrain from drugs, alcohol, and sex, even rated R movies, and then, while most 18 year olds are binge drinking and experimenting with who knows what at college, we send our kids off to 2 year missions, which is like impulse control BOOT CAMP. And by and large, these kids obey.
Impulse control? Big fat huge CHECK.
Obviously Chua and Rubenfeld have done their homework about Mormons. It was refreshing to read something where Mormons come off as, well, pretty cool.
Do they get everything right? No, of course not. They miss the basic idea that Mormons obey because we love God, and because we truly believe that doing these things will lead us to happiness on this earth and in the afterlife. We preach the gospel not because we want mormons to rule the world, but rather because we want to share something precious and wonderful that we feel will help others. The authors say that we do these things because we believe that success is a reward for righteousness, and although I suppose some people believe that, it’s not necessarily actively preached from the pulpit. We are told much more often that obedience will bring us joy now, and it’s the relationship with God that is emphasized rather than an immediate temporal reward.
Mormons aren’t the only focus in the book. There are lots of other interesting things about Jews, Cuban exiles (which I know nothing about but found kinda fascinating), Asian Americans, and Nigerian immigrants and how their successes compare with African Americans. Some have called the book racist, and maybe it is, or maybe she’s just exposing some things about culture that many people are afraid to talk about. At the very least, she shows that what kind of history you identify with is very important. Your ancestors were kick-butt pioneers who sacrificed everything for you to enjoy religious freedom and happiness? Better make that count, kid.
What do you think? Do you think it’s garbage, or are these authors on to something? Do you think connecting with your ancestry changes who you are, or adds certain expectations for productivity and success? Have you found that impulse control taught in the church impacts other areas of your life? Do you buy it at all?
I would love to have every Mormon read this book and then have a giant book club night where every Mormon comes together to talk about it, to talk about their unique experience as being Mormon and what it means to them. I’ll bring the brownies, you bring the root beer.