A clean, well-lighted bathroom


I'm sure you've all heard the joke before. There are variations, but basically it lines us nationalities with their roles in either side of the afterlife. Like, in heaven, you've got British policemen, French cooks, Italin lovers, Swiss bankers and German mechanics. But in hell, the Germans head up the law enforcement, Italians run the banks, the French fix the cars, the British own all the restaurants and the Swiss are your only paramours. Now, I'm not sure what role they'll play in Hades, but I'm pretty certain that in heaven, the Mormons are the custodians.

I don't mean this as a slight, far from, in fact. I am impressed, consistently, with how seriously Mormons take to heart the aphorism about cleanliness and godliness being close neighbors. For instance, go to any college campus of 30,000 students in the world and you'll be routinely appalled by any of the bathrooms. You'll treat them as a dangerous zone to be entered only in dire emergency and to be evacuated as soon as possible. This is not that case at BYU, where (almost) every bathroom is spick and generally span. It's practically surreal. As is the lack of litter around the campus itself. Or the fact that the groundskeepers (most of them student employees) change the flowers that decorate the landscape once every month or so. It's no wonder that, when awarded a landscaping award, BYU was called the Disneyland of college campus. I'm sure the super peppy student body and their undying belief in fairy tales doesn't hurt (I mean, where else would you find an on-campus housing project that includes a bas relief of a wedding ring with the word June underneath it?)

As another example, consider your average meetinghouse. They're clean inside, right? Which wouldn't be saying much if they were used once weekly for a few hours of church. But they're not. These are places where people have meals, play basketball, entertain children by giving them food and otherwise gather at regular intervals in activities that can, and do, produce messes. But it's pretty rare to see crumbs or other detritus laying about. And now, remember that most of the cleaning of these buildings is left to the good graces of members, who volunteer to spruce the place up every week. That's a pretty intense commitment to a mote-free carpet, if you ask me.

I'm guessing there are several reasons why Mormons keep their buildings up so well. Part of it is surely the missionary/PR push of the church. We want our visitors to be impressed with how well we treat our edifices, so it pays (quite literally, I suppose, if said visitors become members who give a faithful tithe) to make things clean. We also stress the concept of stewardship, which plays out much more narrowly than it probably should, but impels us to take care of the physical structures around us. Mormons are also a people quite fixated on outward appearances and are overly literal at times. This, coupled with talk after talk on being clean metaphorically, means dust and grime are not only unpalatable, but perhaps morally questionable as well. Factor into all of this the (irritatingly) prevalent focus on homemaking as the highest calling of women and you've got a people ripe for obsessive cleaning.

It's a pretty good virtue to have, I think. And a terrible one, with its goal of perfection. But, if it means that I can have a clean bathroom to go to any given Sunday, I think I'm for it.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I wish I was one-eighteenth as clean as you are portraying our kind to be. Not that I'm doubting your portrayal....I mean it wouldn't be the first time I was lagging severely behind my brethren/sistren in some department.

alea said...

we have two avenue to pursue here: first, don't you know that it's really your wife's responsibility to be tidy? Didn't you listen to Sister Beck's talk?

Secondly: see that slight tinge of guilt you're feeling? That's all that really matters. Cling to it.

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