Saturday, September 7, 2013

Book Review: Wendy Watson Nelsen's Book "The Not Even Once Club" Stirs Up Controversy Within the LDS Community

A book written by the wife of a member of the Quorum of the Twelve has attracted both praise and criticism from with the LDS community. Wendy Watson Nelsen, a prolific author who is married to Elder Russell M. Nelsen, authored a book entitled "The Not Even Once Club" as a motivational guide to convince kids at an early age to commit themselves to maximum obedience to Gospel principles in a world where standards is becoming increasingly ambiguous. The premise is that the more these principles are welded into kids at an early, impressionable age, the less likely they are to depart from them later in life, and if they do stumble, they won't fall so far or so hard.

According to the Deseret Books website, The Not Even Once Club is an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once. Children will meet Tyler, an energetic boy who is excited to make new friends in his Primary class. They have invited Tyler to join their special club, but first he has to pass the test and keep the club promise. The test was to order lemonade rather than coffee, tea, or alcohol at an imaginary restaurant and to promise never to break the Word of Wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, do drugs, bully, dress immodestly, or break the law of chastity. Not. Even. Once.

Sounds hardnosed? After all, one of the purposes of mortal life is to learn how to operate in an environment where sin is present and competes for our attention and affection. But just because sin is present doesn't mean we always have to commit it to find out how to overcome it. Sure, the prodigal son in the Bible was welcomed back by his father and given a feast, but was he given another inheritance to replace the one he squandered? Absolutely not. And this is one reason why this book was written -- to motivate kids not to squander their eternal inheritance by falling into sin. On Wheat And Tares, Hawkgrrrl suggests that the book could easily be likened to temple covenants made later in life. While I have not personally read the book, I have read enough opinions about it from both sides of the proverbial aisle to have formed a reasonably informed view of it.

Those who like it and find it helpful praise it effusively. The editor of Someone In Mind says that if you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or if you teach Primary or Sunday School, this book needs to be in your home. She notes that in the back of the book, there is a guide for parents to help introduce difficult topics in a way that kids can understand. This can help simplify topics like modesty and pornography for a younger age group. She personally thinks that kids are never too young to discuss these topics, but that doing so requires skill, prayer, and direction from the Holy Ghost. Absolutely correct -- she has effectively captured the spirit and intent of this book. She understands that kids need to be taught the absolutes when they are very young and have limited understanding of subtleties; as they get older and acquire more understanding, they can then be introduced to the "greyer shades". Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. There were also some strongly positive reviews on the Deseret Books website; here's a typical review from Kathy, who rated it four out of five stars:

This was a fun book to read to my 7 year old daughter. She was the perfect age to get what this book was trying to teach. The Not Even Once Club is a picture book aimed at and written for LDS primary aged children. The children in the N.E.O. club pledge to never cheat, bully, steal, smoke, take drugs, drink alcohol, etc. As a child I heard a story of an adult who had never smoked, never drank and never done drugs. I set a goal to be able to say the same thing when I was an adult. As a result I can say I have never drank alcohol, never taken illegal drugs and never smoked... not even once. So obviously I agree completely with the message and aim of this book. I had a fun discussion with my daughter after reading this book. The only thing she was disappointed in was not getting to see the kids play all the fun games and eat all the treats that were present in their club house. After reading all the negative reviews about this book I had another discussion with my daughter. My question to her - what if you did do something like lie or cheat or steal? What then? - She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said - "say sorry and repent" and "everyone makes mistakes".

But there were also some strongly negative reviews. One of the most common complaints is that the book stresses too much "don't" and not enough "do"; complainants feel like there is insufficient emphasis on the atonement. But one of the more self-righteous and sanctimonious negative reviews was published by one of our stereotypical "valuable intellectual properties", a lawyer by the name of Edward Jones. First, Jones refers to the book as "evil", which, for someone who objects to being judgmental, is quite judgmental in itself. A less inflammatory and more precise word might be "one-dimensional". Jones points out that Satan wanted to frog-march everyone back through the pearly gates by coercing us to perform correct actions regardless of our intentions. He notes that Version 2.0 of Satan’s plan replaces hard coercion with soft coercion; in the book, a lonely Tyler agrees to obey the commandments so he can be accepted into a group, and the other kids get “jars of pretzels and popcorn and candy” from Sister Croft “as long as we keep the promise.”

Edward Jones also believes that missing from the story is the central element of Christ’s teaching and atoning sacrifice; namely, love. He asks what if Tyler wants to follow the commandments because he loves our Heavenly Father and other people so much that he would not want to hurt them, or hurt his body by taking in harmful substances or engaging in harmful behavior? This is a legitimate point, but are young Primary-age kids ready for that approach? Most of them aren't; at that young age, kids still respond best to a system of rewards and punishments. First you teach them obedience, then you teach them love.

But what really sticks in my craw is that Edward Jones is proposing censorship. He's asking readers to join his campaign to have Deseret Book remove The Not Even Once Club from its shelves because of the spiritual damage he claims it will inflict on children. Really? Who in hell is he to decide whether or not it will damage children? Who in hell is he to be making that decision for other parents? This is the problem with these intellectuals -- they want to usurp the power of people to control their own lives. Has he forgotten that it was the Prophet Joseph Smith who said "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves". Why is Edward Jones so afraid to allow parents to decide for themselves whether or not this book applies to them?

It's because intellectuals look down upon the lumpenmasses and do not trust them. I now understand why modern prophets and apostles have been skeptical of intellectuals. In May 1993, President Boyd K. Packer identified intellectuals, feminists, and gays as the three greatest dangers to the LDS Church, and when it comes to intellectuals, President Packer slammed it out of the park.

The glory of God may be intelligence, but the curse of God are intellectuals.

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