What Puts the Mormon in Mormon Girl?

March 21, 2012

The Book of Mormon GirlA few days ago, I wrote about Ralph Hancock’s review of Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl at my personal blog. But actually, that post didn’t end up about that at all. It ended up being about how Ralph and several Meridian commenters used Joanna’s words to try to psychoanalyze the entire liberal/uncorrelated Mormon gambit. (Similarly, Kristine Haglund’s rather tame appearance on C-SPAN to discuss Mormonism and Mitt Romney produced similar results in the comments at BCC.)

In much pleasant contrast is Dave Banack’s review of The Book of Mormon Girl at Times and Seasons. I just want to point out a few of his comments and point out how refreshing they are.

First, I’ll start off with something he said that seems to encapsulate for many the experience of growing up Mormon:

The experience of growing up Mormon seems to leave an indelible psychic mark, like a near-death experience or going through boot camp. Whether you later view that mark as a gift or a curse, it’s there nonetheless. So if you grew up Mormon, Brooks’ story of growing up is in some sense your story.

Just after, Dave notes that it is, however, not his story (several commenters note the same)…as he was a teenage convert, and probably had considerably different experiences as a result…this is something I’ve thought about often…it’s clear that different people have different experiences with Mormonism, different reactions to various things related to it…but why?

Sometimes people want to say that the major differentiating factor is whether one has grown up inside Utah or outside Utah. The most intense Mormons (who become the most intense ex-Mormons, if they disaffect) come from Utah. Mormons outside Utah can somehow be more mellow both inside and outside the church.

…a different way of contrasting groups is by pointing out whether one was born and raised in the church or converted later in life. Under this classification schema, those who were born and raised take a distinctly cultural dimension to the church that converts may completely lack as “non-natives” to the church.

I don’t know if either of these are really appropriate or accurate, but I think that Dave has several lines throughout his review that subtly play with these contrasts.

The Book of Formerly Ex-Mormon Girl?

Dave uses language that functionally classifies Joanna as someone who was an ex-Mormon who came back. (Well, I don’t know if it goes that far, but labels a section of the review as leaving the church and coming back. But his description of Joanna’s “leaving the church” seems pretty active to me):

…she went back to California and lived the life of a graduate student while largely avoiding mainstream Mormonism but lingering on the fringes: reading LDS journals, writing a piece here or there, sneaking into the back of LDS meetings now and then.

In the sense, I see that Dave is identifying “the church” with “mainstream Mormonism” — so since Joanna indeed was “largely avoiding mainstream Mormonism” her lingering involvement with LDS journals do not count in her favor.

…I think this is really interesting. What does it mean to leave the Church? (For example, what does it mean to leave the church as opposed to “being inactive,” or “being on hiatus” or even “being a Mormon on one’s own terms”? Do any of these blur into one another?) I haven’t read the book or a lot of Joanna’s own comments about her story, so I don’t know if she would classify that period of her life as having “left the church,” but my gut reaction has never been to classify Joanna as someone who has “left the church and then returned.”

…But then again, on an anecdotal level, I’ve thought about this before: I know people who HAVE testified in church that they were inactive for 20+ years before coming back to activity. When people say this…even if they don’t say they “left the church,” I have to pause: if someone has been inactive for as many years as I have been alive, yet they still have “come back,” then at what point in disaffection can one say that they have left without putting an asterisk for the possibility that they could change their minds later?

But whether Joanna left, just went on extended emotional holiday, or was just inactive, I found the analysis Dave made regarding her reasons for return striking…not for what they were, but for what he felt they weren’t:

Brooks’ writing suggests that she, as a sensitive but alienated Mormon, still had a deep, if hidden, connection to the Church, probably deeper than most active, churchgoing Mormons do. She writes movingly of the women who are her LDS ancestors; she writes of bringing her daughters back to church so they, too, can feel that connection and be part of that ongoing generational story. There is no suggestion that any concern with immediate family caused her to return; it is obviously not LDS doctrine or politics that she missed. “LDS culture” or even “LDS heritage” doesn’t seem to capture what drew her back. Toward the end of the book, she explains, “I went back to church so that my daughters could know the same loving, kind, and powerful God I was raised to believe in.” Or, as she recalls explaining years ago to a friend who was puzzled by the odd persistence of her Mormon-ness, “it is my first language, my mother tongue, my family, my people, my home; it is my heart.”

Emphasis added.

One for Our Team?

Is it a bad thing that people don’t stick with the church for the sake of family concerns, LDS doctrine, or politics? Well, here’s exactly where people disagree…For Dave, it’s not ideal, but it’s not a bad thing. As he said:

Well, if that’s how you talk about your sort-of ex-church, you’ll probably head back too at some point. Whatever the reason, I count her return as a small victory. Given the increasing numbers of young Mormons leaving the Church and the amount of bad press we’ve been getting lately, we should all be grateful for such small victories.

However, as my previous link to Ralph Hancock’s review in Meridian suggests, others don’t see things the same. And Dave notes that. Dave has a bit more things to say about people like that:

Yet there are people out there saying there’s no room in the LDS Church for people like Brooks, describing her position favoring gay marriage as “irreconcilable with the church,” and generally trying to make Brooks and others like her feel unwelcome (although still “want[ing] her to remain Mormon”).

There’s a phrase that describes this smaller-is-better view of the ideal church: The Church of Jesus Christ of People Just Like Me. This view seems to flourish inside the Provo bubble, where everyone you meet might actually be just like you, a place where people like Professor Bott (another supporter of the Church of People Just Like Me) can flourish for decades. The people who embrace this sort of thinking and the rash public statements they make if given access to the media are more of a danger to the Church than those who dream progressive dreams, give speeches to a few dozen sympathizers, and write essays and poetry in journals that few Mormons even know exist. In the unjust calculus of public relations, one dumb statement by an LDS official or employee does much more harm than a dozen speeches, essays, or poems by folks like Brooks. I wish the SCMC had a dumb statements file, but I doubt the committee is paying any attention to that danger.

Dave’s encapsulation of this view as “The Church of Jesus Christ of People Just Like Me” reminded me of my post on the Typical Mormonism Fallacy. But the thing about Typical Mormonism Fallacy is that it doesn’t only applies to people like Professor Bott…rather, all kinds of people can be guilty of making their experience of Mormonsim the Only True Experience of Mormonism. Unfortunately, even though diversity and a “big tent” are embraced by some progressive-minded, “uncorrelated” types, the question is whether they are successful in avoiding a “smaller-is-better” view of the ideal church…only shifted further left on the political or theological spectrum.

Dave hits that point too:

Personally, I like to think that political views are opinions on which reasonable people can differ, but that may be a minority view these days. I don’t get the sense that Brooks sees political opinions that differ from hers as potentially reasonable. There are certainly plenty of Mormon conservatives who reciprocate.

I think that we all (especially us at Wheat & Tares) run the risk of trying to create an environment where political (or theological) views are opinions on which reasonable people can differ, but ultimately, we still end up privileging certain opinions over others.

But that’s another topic for another day…I’ve been thinking about a few things since reading Dave’s post, and that brings us to the…

Questions for Today

  1. What makes a girl (or boy) Mormon?
  2. Is Joanna Brooks (or *should* she be considered) a Mormon, given her own statements of what draws her to the church, what she believes and what she doesn’t, what she accepts and what she doesn’t?
  3. What makes someone an ex-Mormon? Does one have to essentially stop talking about Mormonism or engaging with it in any way to be ex-Mormon? How can one tell if one is ex-Mormon vs. Mormon-in-indefinite-hiatus?

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121 Responses to What Puts the Mormon in Mormon Girl?

  1. SilverRain on March 21, 2012 at 5:00 AM

    I don’t care who calls themselves Mormon. That said, believing the Book of Mormon is more than just a nice morality story, but is actually the word of God and an actual account of a people told from their point of view would seem to be the best descriptor.

    Although I believe anyone who wants to call themselves Mormon can, I think it’s silly to be a “cultural Mormon” the same way you might be cultural Jew. Being Jewish is an ethnicity as much as a religion. Being Mormon is a cultural description only for a very small segment of Mormonism, and has practically no link to ethnicity. Therefore, it has little meaning outside of discussing stereotypes.

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  2. hawkgrrrl on March 21, 2012 at 5:00 AM

    1 – I tend to go broader on this one. I would say anyone who was raised Mormon or ever serious about it as a convert (having attended for long enough that it took some root) qualifies. Ryan Gosling IMO is Mormon, even though he no longer goes to church. He has had the insider experience. Tom Hanks is not, even though he has attended the LDS church and considered joining briefly as a teen (IIRC) when his dad married a Mormon (also briefly).
    2 – The bigger the church gets, the less it is possible to maintain narrow definitions of who qualifies as a Mormon, despite what Meridien Mag might like. Same with Catholicism. There was a great article in NYT about the widening gulf between what the celibate church hierarchy says Catholics believe and what they actually believe: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/opinion/bruni-many-kinds-of-catholic.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general. As I’ve said before when I was teaching in the church – you can correlate the manuals, but you can’t correlate the contents of people’s heads. We still have independent thought and independent interpretations of things.
    3 – I reserve the term ex-Mormon for those who have either been excommunicated or who have asked to have their names removed. But on some level, once a Mormon, always a Mormon – people who have been in still speak the language and are, in many ways, more sympathetic than uneducated outsiders – even those that are against the church having left it generally can’t sit by and let people bash the church ignorantly. They want all bashing to be accurate and deserved. To me, that’s a form of loyalty we should recognize.

    But in any case, I agree with you that Joanna was never completely out of the church, nor was the church ever completely out of her. Yet due to her associations with those the church deliberately rooted out and disenfranchized, I imagine she felt kicked out in sympathy.

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  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 21, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    In the 1960s to sometime in 1970, the Church was an ethnic group — something it accomplished in record time, and a side effect of polygamy and some other events in Church history.

    One thing that has happened in the Church since is that it is losing its ethnic group status in many, many areas. Many younger members have no connection to the Church as an ethnic group, others as just a core cultural experience.

    Others grew up on the fringes of the culture, and though born in the Church, were never a real part of it for long enough to be culturally encapsulated (thinking of myself).

    For us, alas, we have to settle for being part of the Church because that is what God wants.

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  4. Jeff Spector on March 21, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    What I always found interesting is the contrast between so-called ex-Mormons and non-observant Jews. There is no ex-Jewish movement that speaks so vehemently against it. I realize some may speak against Israel as a political movement, but I suspect there are no “Recovery from Judaism” websites. Are there sites on “recovery” from other religions?

    I also do not care who calls themselves Mormon. the term, “inactive” or less active” is really a Church adminstrative term, not a state of being.

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  5. Andrew S on March 21, 2012 at 7:14 AM

    re 1:

    SilverRain

    Just curious…what if someone believes the Book of Mormon is more than a nice morality story…it is the word of God, but still, not a factual history?

    But to address the larger part of your comment, are the only differences between Judaism as an ethnicity and Mormonism that lacks this 1) that Judaism has existed for a lot longer and 2) Mormonism keeps getting “fresh blood” so to speak, with a robust missionary approach?

    re 2,

    hawkgrrrl,

    As a total aside, it was JUST the other day that I learned Ryan Gosling grew up Mormon. I was not looking at the pic just for his pecs.

    But seriously, you said, “You can correlated the manuals, but you can’t correlate the contents of people’s heads.”

    It seems to me, though, that many members don’t agree with Joanna’s approach. Even of many members undergoing disaffection, they don’t find Joanna’s approach viable. And then they will often point to correlated ideas to support a view of the church in which it is only valid to stay in if you believe x way, etc., So it seems for the most part that correlating manuals does correlate minds (with disastrous implications when people stop believing…because now, they for the most part don’t believe it is legitimate to keep staying after that. In this sense Joanna and her reasoning for “coming back” are quite foreign, new intrusions to the conversation.)

    even those that are against the church having left it generally can’t sit by and let people bash the church ignorantly. They want all bashing to be accurate and deserved. To me, that’s a form of loyalty we should recognize.

    Well, that’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard today (ignoring the fact I’ve only been awake for about an hour, ;))

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  6. Andrew S on March 21, 2012 at 7:31 AM

    re 3,

    Stephen,

    Doesn’t that view of ethnic group emphasize genetic similarity above other kinds (e.g., with the comment about polygamy…is the ethnic group about lineage and children?)

    Why is the church losing its ethnic status? Is what you’re saying that someone from, say, my generation, would be less likely to play a role that Joanna Brooks is playing? Why so?

    There was a post at Zelophehad’s Daughters about staying in the church without fitting in to it…It puzzled me. I was going to write about that eventually…I have it open in another browser tab, but I just haven’t gotten around to it…

    re 4,

    Jeff,

    I can think of ex-Jews, but for the most part, these are the ex-Jews-for-Jesus types. One thing is that being an atheist/agnostic/secular Jew is not an issue in Reform Judaism…the fact that there is a Reform Judaism is a huge distinguishing factor.

    There tend to be greater “recovery from…” movements for stricter, conservative religions that do *not* offer valid, sizeable options for nonbelieving populations. So, religions like Islam, or other denominations of Christianity like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    So, for Judaism, I would probably guess that the people who leave Judaism and are most likely to have a negative opinion after are those who left Orthodox Judaism.

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  7. SteveS on March 21, 2012 at 7:35 AM

    I’ve said this before countless times all over the Bloggernacle: the only true definition of whether someone is Mormon or not has to be self-identification. I know that riles certain people who want a narrow definition (the “Just Like Me” or JLM Mormons, if you will) of the term, but any attempt to do so robs some group of their identity. Are members of the Community of Christ not Mormon? What about the Bickertonites? or the FLDS? of course they are Mormon, even if they never grew up LDS.

    Conversely, an individual can be considered an ex-Mormon only through self-identification. Even excommunicated members of a mormon church can still be “Mormon”, esp. if they hope to one day be rebaptized. “Ex-Mormon” is not only a rejection of a religion, it is a rejection of a worldview and culture, and I expect those that self-identify as Ex-Mormon to seek ways of distancing themselves from their previous Mormonism.

    Therefore, Joanna is most certainly Mormon. Always has been, according to her own account.

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  8. Howard on March 21, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    Church indoctrination and socialization makes a girl or boy Mormon and suspending one’s belief in science helps qualify for Silver Rain’s best descriptor.

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  9. bonnieblythe on March 21, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    I’m a little puzzled by the whole definition of “Mormon” or “ex-Mormon” or whatever. When you suggested one way of being classified having to do with whether one grew up inside or outside of Utah I bristled, but I suppose it’s as much about there being categorizations as what comprises their assignment.

    I think of myself as an intense Mormon (talk about it a lot, participate in the public and private behaviors, think of it as the key to understanding my life and my place in society) but I didn’t move to Utah until I was 40 (and that’s probably not the kind of “intense” you meant). Who really cares about an assignment of Mormon or ex-Mormon?

    I guess people do. I figure nobody’s going to like everything one says or does so I ignore people who aren’t engaging in a conversation of respect and do my own thing. So she writes a book about her experience. People who are interested will read it. So he writes an editorial because he doesn’t like it. People who are interested will read it. I didn’t read either, because I’m more interested in how to fix health care.

    I think we can create a more inclusive environment by doing a little live and let live and not hassling either one over definitions that at least some of us don’t get too worked up about. Though I certainly respect everyone’s freedom to have a conversation about all the definitions.

    Peace – love – pass the refreshments.

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  10. Jeff Spector on March 21, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    Andrew S,

    “I would probably guess that the people who leave Judaism and are most likely to have a negative opinion after are those who left Orthodox Judaism.”

    Yes, that is true. So I guess it is probably true of any “Orthodox-type” faith.

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  11. Andrew S. on March 21, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    re 8,

    Howard,

    Comments as short and snippy like that aren’t going to fly. If you need me to talk to you off-site about it, then I can email you.

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  12. Howard on March 21, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    Andrew,
    Sorry for the brevity. Having left the church in my early 20s I was thinking about your question; What does it mean to leave the Church? and your first question of the day; What makes a girl (or boy) Mormon? Looking back it was my roots of indoctrination and socialization that remained with me in spite of living most of my life outside the church. So that appears to be what made me a Mormon boy and it is things like insisting on the historicity of the BoM that slow my participation after returning to the church. Why? Because the historicity of BoM has serious problems as viewed by science. I have prayed about these issues and received a clear answer, I now have a testimony that the BoM is inspired fiction. I did not start with this bias, I was guided by the Spirit to that conclusion and frankly didn’t know if it could fly but apparently there is no good argument against it. Now according to Silver Rain’s best descriptor I don’t qualify as a Mormon. Why? I noticed you questioned this too. How does one simultaneously believe in science and the historicity of the BoM without isolating and compartmentalizing them or hopping for a miracle? In other words how does one believe in both simultaneously without resorting to psychologically defensive gymnastics and spin? Thus my comment; suspending one’s belief in science helps qualify for Silver Rain’s best descriptor.

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  13. Mike S on March 21, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    What makes a girl (or boy) Mormon?

    The person’s self-perception is ultimately the only answer that makes sense. We all have different ideas of what it means to “practice” Mormonism (ie. what to do on Sabbath, Coke, etc.) We even have different ideas of what our doctrines actually mean – even up to and including our highest leaders. Even prophets say things that contradict previous prophets, yet we consider them all Mormon. There is no external, objective measure for what it means to be “Mormon”.

    One’s activity rate isn’t a good measure. The Church regularly counts people as “members” in its 14+ million number who haven’t been to church in decades.

    Is Joanna Brooks (or *should* she be considered) a Mormon, given her own statements of what draws her to the church, what she believes and what she doesn’t, what she accepts and what she doesn’t?

    I would absolutely consider her a Mormon. No question.

    What makes someone an ex-Mormon? Does one have to essentially stop talking about Mormonism or engaging with it in any way to be ex-Mormon? How can one tell if one is ex-Mormon vs. Mormon-in-indefinite-hiatus?

    I think this is also up to the person. A good barometer for this might be their membership. If someone is still on the roles of the Church but just doesn’t go, I would be more likely to consider them a “Mormon-in-indefinite-hiatus”. If someone has actively moved to remove their name from the rolls of the Church, I’d be more likely to consider them an “ex-Mormon”.

    I also think that “ex-Mormon” doesn’t necessarily have as negative of a connotation as some people might think. Do we consider a convert a “bad person” because they are an “ex-Baptist”? Or an “ex-Muslim”? Similarly, I wouldn’t consider someone who decided that Mormonism wasn’t for them a “bad person”.

    I contrast this with an “anti-Mormon”, who is someone actively fighting AGAINST the Church. Sometimes the two coincide, such as the “ex-Mormon” who is also an “anti-Mormon”, but you CAN be an “anti-Mormon” who has never been a Mormon (some Southern evangelicals, for example), and you can be an “ex-Mormon” who isn’t an “anti-Mormon”. Clear as mud?

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  14. SilverRain on March 21, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Andrew—I think the terms “factual history” are so ironic as to almost be oxymoronic. Do you think it was written anciently or by Joseph Smith? That is the core of the question, I think. If you think Joseph Smith wrote it allegorically under the direction of God, you do not believe one of the core doctrines of the Church, and therefore don’t qualify for the term “Mormon” in the sense of being a believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Again, you can call yourself Mormon if you like, I have no beef with that, but you are wordsmithing the term.

    As far as the cultural difference between Jew and non-Jew, I think your #2 is the bulk of the issue. The “Mormon” ethnic group as Stephen has mentioned is so diluted it exists almost completely as a caricature.

    Howard—My life raised LDS by two Utah Mormons (though I was not raised in Utah myself) was so vastly different from your description of yours and Joanna Brooks’ description of hers, that I find both yours and Joanna’s attempt to define my life insulting. Each of you are completely entitled to describe and discuss YOUR experiences growing up Mormon, but when you cross the line into insisting that MY experiences must have matched, you go too far. They didn’t. I was not indoctrinated or brainwashed. Yet, I believe. I believe based on personal experience with deity.

    It is actually quite easy to reconcile science and theology by simply admitting that neither source of information has all the answers.

    Because I don’t begrudge anyone the freedom to label themselves, I consider Joanna Brooks a Mormon, but a Mormon in a different sense than others are Mormon. I consider FLDS members and RLDS Mormon, too, though in a different sense that I am Mormon.

    There is, however, a very real possibility that some people might label themselves Mormon for less than pure motives. I have met some myself.

    The closest thing to an objective measure of Mormonhood is belief in the Book of Mormon. Otherwise, I see that a person’s belief system has more in common with various forms of Protestantism than Mormonism.

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  15. Mike S on March 21, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    #14 SilverRain: Do you think it was written anciently or by Joseph Smith? That is the core of the question, I think.

    This isn’t as clear cut as you make it seem, or as they try to present it in General Conference. In most cases, if something was “written anciently”, people could examine the text to see if it was fraudulent or not, they could see if the translation was correct, they could put it in context, etc.

    With the case of the Book of Mormon, things are much different. We obviously don’t have the actual writings to examine. But, more importantly for your question, it wasn’t “translated” in the way we traditionally use the term today. We typically use “translation” to imply that someone is looking at or listening to something in one language, and is relaying the concepts in another language. But that’s not what happened with the Book of Mormon, according to contemporary accounts and even taught recently by Elder Russell M. Nelson.

    For the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith wasn’t even looking at the plates a majority of the time, but they were covered up. Sometimes, they weren’t even in the same room as him. The words that he dictated to his scribes were what he was inspired to say. Now, this doesn’t mean it wasn’t a divinely inspired book. I would ascribe the same powers to God to inspire Joseph Smith what to say/write as Mormon, Moroni, Nephi, or any other prophet. In modern terminology, therefore, it might perhaps be more correct to say that the Book of Mormon is an “inspired” book as opposed to a strictly “translated” book.

    Given this, a comment such as this makes no sense:

    If you think Joseph Smith wrote it allegorically under the direction of God, you do not believe one of the core doctrines of the Church, and therefore don’t qualify for the term “Mormon” in the sense of being a believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    It’s not black and white. Someone CAN believe that the Book of Mormon wasn’t strictly “translated”, yet still feel it was divinely inspired. They can still learn truth from the book. And they can still consider themselves Mormon.

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  16. SilverRain on March 21, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    Yes, Mike. I understand all of that. But what you say is wordsmithing a bit, too. You can believe it was translated by divine means, but not go so far as to call it strictly “inspired.”

    It is more clear-cut than you give it credit for. Do you believe there was an actual account about actual people? If not, if you think it was an inspired story told allegorically, then you don’t believe in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as one of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints core beliefs.

    Call yourself Mormon, by all means, but it is a different kind of Mormon.

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  17. Howard on March 21, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    Silver Rain,
    Insulting? Isn’t that a bit strong? I’ve insisted nothing regarding your experience growing up. Why are you associating me with Joanna Brooks? Indoctrination is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned. As I recall you were invited to question growing up and so was I but not at church and the teachings begin before a child learns to assertively question. If critical questioning were generally welcomed at church I doubt we would be having this discussion and I doubt the bloggernacle would have much of a niche. I said nothing of brainwashed that is a term you introduced to the conversation. Now you write; The closest thing to an objective measure of Mormonhood is belief in the Book of Mormon. That is very different from what you said in in #1 and would include me.

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  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 21, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Andrew, many ethnic groups are genetically related, but many are not. It is the sense of extended family like connection. Places where people help you move in or find a job because of the connection.

    Claiming an identity even though one has left the faith is a good indicator that there are still ethnic group trappings.

    Consider those who were Irish in Halifax vs people wh drink “black and tans” (name refers in Ireland to a reviled anti-Irish group, not a mixed beer). The one were part of the ethnic group, the others are posers who only consider themselves Irish one day a year.

    It is an interesting development. But the LDS are not as clannish as they were. Still, the entire “I am a non-believing Mormon and I will never again attend services but I am as Mormon as you ate” crowd is a testament that the ethnic identity has not passed yet.

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  19. Adam G. on March 21, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    Psychologically its hard, maybe even impossible, to really commit to beliefs, to make them part of your core, and them to treat them as externalities for the purposes of conversation. When beliefs become convictions, finding a community that share them is wonderful.

    I see the wonder and beauty in diversity of views and in the love that comes from actively overcoming the barriers that different viewpoints create. But there is a level of intimacy, trust, and understanding possible with people who share your core because its their core too. I don’t see any reason to privilege the former beauty over the latter.

    Needless to say, calling an opinion on where the line should be drawn between diversity of views and shared convictions ‘the Church of People Just Like Me’ is an attempt to shut down that opinion, not an attempt to understand or tolerate it.

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  20. Howard on March 21, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    Very well stated Adam G although I disagree with your conclusion.

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  21. Andrew S. on March 21, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    re 7,

    SteveS,

    What does “true” mean when you use it here: “the only true definition of whether someone is Mormon or not has to be self-identification.”

    As from my previous post, I’m not sure if I even understand what the word “true” means, whereas I think I can understand words like “factual” or “accurate.”

    And it seems to me that if we’re talking about accurate definitions of Mormons, then that means there isn’t “only one” accurate definition thereof…after all, we can try to classify what we think is essential to Mormonism, and based on how we answer that, we can come up with different ideas of how people would be in accordance with that (thus, “accurately” be defined as a Mormon.)

    Even with the self-identification route, we’d probably want to do some checks on the people self-identifying. For example, someone who has never had any contact with Mormons at all, but who self-identifies as Mormon (for whatever reason)…why would we consider this person to be Mormon?

    Normally, when people go the self-identification route of definition, what is implied is that, “The people who would self-identify would only do so because they have a certain familiarity with Mormonism…that is what makes their self-identification valid.”

    This really comes out in your later section:

    an individual can be considered an ex-Mormon only through self-identification. Even excommunicated members of a mormon church can still be “Mormon”, esp. if they hope to one day be rebaptized. “Ex-Mormon” is not only a rejection of a religion, it is a rejection of a worldview and culture, and I expect those that self-identify as Ex-Mormon to seek ways of distancing themselves from their previous Mormonism.

    In other words, self-identification is not the only thing at play here (even though you’re saying it is). Rather, “a worldview and culture” are also at play. So you expect that those who self-identify as ex-Mormon “seek ways of distancing themselves from their previous Mormonism.”

    But here’s how that could go differently. Let’s take Joanna Brooks. She is clearly “distancing herself from her previous Mormon,” but that doesn’t make her an ex-Mormon. Rather, she is redefining what Mormon means for her and asserting that Mormon can mean progressive political thinker, non-literalist believer, etc., But she is certainly distancing herself from previous understandings of Mormonism (e.g., conservative politics, literal belief, etc.,)

    So, suppose someone distances themselves from their previous Mormonism but identifies as a Mormon? Suppose someone identifies as ex-Mormonism but doesn’t distance themselves at all?

    I think that’s what people are getting at when they doubt or dispute the implications of Joanna Brooks’ Mormonism…it makes Mormonism anything that anyone wants it to be — as long as they self-identify it as Mormonism.

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  22. Andrew S. on March 21, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    re 9,

    bonnieblythe,

    When you suggested one way of being classified having to do with whether one grew up inside or outside of Utah I bristled, but I suppose it’s as much about there being categorizations as what comprises their assignment.

    I think of myself as an intense Mormon (talk about it a lot, participate in the public and private behaviors, think of it as the key to understanding my life and my place in society) but I didn’t move to Utah until I was 40 (and that’s probably not the kind of “intense” you meant). Who really cares about an assignment of Mormon or ex-Mormon?

    P.S., it’s exactly stories like this that make me think most of the systems of classification are inadequate.

    However, I can understand the argument that Mormon should mean *something*, so whatever that *something* is should have some sort of boundary. I think most people make the boundaries too small, however.

    I think we can create a more inclusive environment by doing a little live and let live and not hassling either one over definitions that at least some of us don’t get too worked up about. Though I certainly respect everyone’s freedom to have a conversation about all the definitions.

    I guess one case to be made is that people think that there can be negative consequences to actions…so “live and let live” could be saying, “live and let die/kill/sway away/destroy/etc.,”

    Not saying I personally believe that, but I think that’s why people want to distance themselves away.

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  23. Andrew S. on March 21, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    re 10,

    Jeff,

    My thoughts exactly. So the question is: should Mormonism stick to being an orthodox face and just accept that it’s going to produce people who are REALLY upset with it…or should it try to appeal to different kinds of people (like the Joanna Brooks crowd), even if it means dropping some distinctive things?

    re 12,

    Howard,

    I was thinking as well that language like “indoctrination” is just incredibly loaded. I mean, I know that people are going to quibble about the difference between indoctrination and education or whatnot, but let’s face it: everyone does something that could be considered “indoctrination” because everyone has some beliefs that they believe strongly in that rely on some axiomatic assumptions…so “indoctrination isn’t really a helpful term except to condemn beliefs you really don’t like.

    It doesn’t move the conversation forward.

    But anyway…

    I think you can and should talk more *positively* about your belief in the inspired (yet fictional) nature of the BoM, and whether that is not accepted in the church, and talk less about attacking literalist belief in the BoM (even though yeah, I’m aware of the reasons you find it problematic…) That would probably help the conversation move forward and you definitely have something interesting to say here…

    re 13,

    Mike,

    Let me ask you something: is there an external, objective measure for what it means to be a Temple Recommend-worthy Mormon, at the very least. Because I know several people who would assert that there isn’t (e.g., the Temple Recommend questions are vague and most people add their own cultural ideas to what various parts of questions mean)…

    I also think that “ex-Mormon” doesn’t necessarily have as negative of a connotation as some people might think. Do we consider a convert a “bad person” because they are an “ex-Baptist”? Or an “ex-Muslim”? Similarly, I wouldn’t consider someone who decided that Mormonism wasn’t for them a “bad person”.

    I don’t think *we* do (especially if, for example, they converted from Islam to Mormonism), but I certainly think a Baptist or Muslim would. So yeah.

    I contrast this with an “anti-Mormon”, who is someone actively fighting AGAINST the Church. Sometimes the two coincide, such as the “ex-Mormon” who is also an “anti-Mormon”, but you CAN be an “anti-Mormon” who has never been a Mormon (some Southern evangelicals, for example), and you can be an “ex-Mormon” who isn’t an “anti-Mormon”. Clear as mud?

    But this is a huge can of worms. If you believe there are no external, objective measures to describe who a Mormon is, then it follows that there aren’t external, objective measures to describe who an anti-Mormon is (because you can’t solidify what “the church” is…or what “fighting against” the church would include.)

    Suppose I’m a member who wants to make the church less politically conservative and more progressive. Suppose I do want very big changes within the church. Suppose I think the church is in apostasy. Am I fighting against the church? Could some conservative members perceive me as such?

    The self-perception criteria doesn’t really help us here…not a lot of people perceive themselves OR their actions as fighting against Mormons or the church. More often, they are trying to *improve* or *change* the church.

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  24. bonnieblythe on March 21, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Andrew S.

    I agree that being “Mormon” should mean something, and I’ve been thinking off and on today what I think that is or should be, just as I’m still thinking about what it means to be “woman” from a conversation over on Segullah last week.

    I have a high tolerance for ambiguity. I don’t think God defines things like that often. I think we are benefited by the struggle to figure it out ourselves, just as we are with defining orthodoxy – because there is nothing more important than developing a finely-tuned relationship with God through the Holy Ghost.

    I certainly understand the many reasons for wanting a boundaried definition, especially for people with lower tolerances for ambiguity. The key for me is that all of our definitions aren’t going to affect the growth of the church that much. Stones cut without hands rolling on their own and all that. I doubt we save that many people by inscribing our orthodoxy in stone, but that’s just me.

    So, what does it mean to me to be a Mormon? I’m on the path headed for a tree holding a really handy handrail and letting the fog be.

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  25. Mike S on March 21, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    #23 Andrew S:

    …is there an external, objective measure for what it means to be a Temple Recommend-worthy Mormon, at the very least?

    I don’t think so, because even with something as objective as a list of questions, there are varying interpretations. For example:

    – Do you keep the Word of Wisdom? People may or may not consider Coke against the WofW. Others may or may not consider green tea against the WofW. Some use alcohol for cooking, others don’t.

    – Are you honest with your fellowman? I gave a lesson in EQ a few years back about honesty and gave an example of a prominent SL businessman who openly ripped off someone I knew, saying it would cost as much to recover the short-change in legal fees, so just accept it. Nearly half the elders in the class said that “business honesty” is different than “personal honesty”, and that you basically had to “play the game” to stay in business because everyone else was doing it. I ended the class then, as I had nothing else to say. And they all went to the temple on Ward temple day, so obviously answered this question correctly.

    And so on. Even “objective” questions aren’t so objective. My best interview I ever had was the last time I renewed my recommend. The counselor said that it was really between me and God. He had to go through the formality of asking the questions, but it came down to if I felt worthy to go to the temple.

    And I feel the same way about whether someone “is Mormon”. No one can define what it means TO ME to be Mormon. They can define THEIR VERSION of Mormonism, just like they can define their interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, but they can’t define someone else’s.

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  26. Andrew S. on March 21, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    re 14,

    SilverRain,

    As a hipster-in-training, I try to cultivate a daily sense of irony, yes.

    I would say, however, that one can easily assent to the 8th Article of Faith without believing the Book of Mormon is an ancient document at all. There is no wordsmithing there — it simply doesn’t address historicity in the AoF.

    On a personal level, I don’t disagree with you on this point. I think that the common understanding is that Mormons should believe in the Book of Mormon as a historical, ancient document…but for the sake of conversation, to just assume that is the one legitimate way Mormons must believe is begging the question…that may ultimately turn out to be the case, but it has to be shown first.

    The “Mormon” ethnic group as Stephen has mentioned is so diluted it exists almost completely as a caricature.

    I still wonder, and ask: what is the Mormon ethnic group that is now diluted?

    re 18,

    Stephen,

    Based on your comments here, in what sense is Mormonism as an ethnic group *less* now than before? …Is it because people don’t do their home teaching as faithfully (and thus don’t help as many people move in/out, etc.,) now?

    re 19,

    Adam G,

    Really great point, Adam.

    I think one thing about the two groups…I guess it just really depends on what one sees a group (e.g., Mormonism) as: the former…or the latter. and for a lot of people, the Mormon ideal is supposed to be a way to get away from creeds (the latter), and instead to join together as a community through shared striving (the former.)

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  27. Jeff Spector on March 21, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    Andrew S,

    ” should Mormonism stick to being an orthodox face and just accept that it’s going to produce people who are REALLY upset with it…or should it try to appeal to different kinds of people (like the Joanna Brooks crowd), even if it means dropping some distinctive things?”

    Well, that is also a good question. By and large the “mother” orthodox branch never accepts the more liberal offshoots as a legitimate form of worhsip. To an Orthodox Jew, the Reformed branch may as well be Christian. They do not even recognize it as a Jewish entity.

    I suspect the Holy Roman Catholic Church would say the same thing about it’s offshoots.

    For folks like me, who buy the concept of God having one way and one plan, it also seems odd to have so many churches and religions.

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  28. Jeff Spector on March 21, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    I think that one can embrace the ethnicity or culture without having to set foot in the Church or even believe any of it theology.

    Though, I cannot for the life of me know why they would. There is no theater, no compelling literature outside of the theological, few thought leaders, etc.

    Green Jello is not enough!

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  29. ji on March 21, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    I imagine a large circle called “A” comprising the set of those we call cultural Mormons, and another circle called “B” which partially overlaps “A” and comprises the set of those who are religiously committed Latter-day Saints.

    Some people are in “A” only.

    Some people are in “B”, in the part of “B” that overlaps “A”.

    Some people are in “B”, in the part that does not overlap “A”.

    All of the above are Mormons.

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  30. bonnieblythe on March 21, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    I think I am particularly sensitive to these categorical assignments because I participated in them when I was younger. Growing up in Kansas and Missouri, I ascribed to the general belief that “Utah Mormons” were lacking a bit of backbone and caught in a cultural definition of Mormonism that detracted from sincere discipleship (the word Pharisee comes to mind). I am ashamed to say that I had to move here to overcome my bigotry. While certainly there are those who define their discipleship differently than I do, I have also met some of the kindest, most committed, humblest, and most giving people I’ve ever met anywhere. “Utah Mormon” is such a desperately divisive appellation. I guess it has made me hypersensitive to assigning any boundaries whatsoever.

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  31. SilverRain on March 21, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    Andrew—The ethnic group (which is more than just being there to help) would be all that is connoted by the term “Utah Mormon.”

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  32. bonnieblythe on March 21, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    That’s sad, SilverRain, because I would like to part of something, an ethnic group, that was founded on something positive. I’ve been thinking about this Mormon ethnicity all day. I think it’s about being God’s covenant people. The BofM states unequivocally that that is one of it’s purposes: to remind God’s covenant people (by blood/adoption ethnicity) of their relationship with him (through cultural ethnicity.) The fact that that relationship extends far beyond any individual prophet or principle or practice is what makes me a Mormon. So let it be written. So let it be done.

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  33. Howard on March 21, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    Andrew,
    I would use a synonym but I found nothing within ballpark accuracy of describing what goes on with children as they grow up in the church and with many adults as well. I agree that it is loaded term and that is precisely why I think it is fertile ground to explore in answer to; What makes a girl (or boy) Mormon? also in answer to; Why is it loaded? So I will attempt to explain by looking at what is under it, however if you direct me to I will drop it after this comment unless I am directly challenged by others regarding it.

    Here is what I think happens; teachings that are largely critically unexamined and unquestioned by the child student or believing accepting adult are layered into their belief system by well meaning teachers (hopefully no Botts but maybe so) over time when those beliefs are later logically challenged by an outsider the holder of those beliefs is unprepared to answer the logical challenge cognitive dissonance results and a response often an ego defense like insult occurs which seems to be very common in discussions of religion or politics or perhaps more authentically a shrug of the shoulders and an “I don’t know.” or “Well the brethren say this…” So I think some more orthodox members are threatened by heterodox questioning, this and fear of watering down doctrine seems to be at the root of their objection to allowing wider beliefs. I think many people who were raised in the church and are more heterodox in their beliefs now grew up with this same layering in of teachings and of course with church socialization giving rise to a feelings of deep roots within the tradition but having critically examined some of these teachings feel pushed out by an insistence on literalness and an unwillingness to allow a broader range of beliefs.

    I believe Joseph was a great Prophet, I believe the BoM says what God wanted it to say, but I don’t believe it is historically accurate and neither does science. But this leaves a lot of room. The BoM may be an accurate translation of what was on the plates in other words God may have revealed or inspired BoM scribes to write the story and Joseph translated it precisely. However this seems unlikely especially with the seer stone and face in a hat plates out of sight description. Some people are put off by this description, I am not, I think it is a good description of Joseph receiving revelation or inspiration of what to say to his scribe. So I think God dictated the BoM through Joseph and I am at peace with that understanding. Why does it have to be literal?

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  34. FireTag on March 21, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    I will probably not read “Book of Mormon Girl” due to lack of time (I’m this week at the stage of asking “The Hunger Games is about WHAT???). But I certainly wanted to note that Joanna’s words brought a tear to my eye with the quote from the OP:

    “it is my first language, my mother tongue, my family, my people, my home; it is my heart.”

    The Restoration is that for me, even though my “mother tongue is the RLDS rather than the LDS variant. I once wrote a post about Wandering Mormons as Nephites — about people who are led by God away from their religious homes for the eventual salvation of those they leave behind as well as for their own salvation. I still believe that, and still try to live it.

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  35. SilverRain on March 21, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    Bonnie—There are many of God’s covenant people who are not Mormon. The Jews, for example. Perhaps others we don’t know about.

    What you talk about is a religious heritage, not an ethnic one. It is not a subgroup, it is a group that cuts across all other groups. It is not cultural or national in origin, it is spiritual in origin. Even the bloodline/adoption clause you mention is based on spiritual commonality.

    As such, to me, it boils down to the question, what is the most fundamental difference in belief from other religions which would make the term “Mormon” meaningful.

    Howard, I think others answered better than I could. But, for what it is worth, some of my experience in the LDS church could be considered indoctrination, but much of it has encouraged questioning. In fact, the theology is entirely based on questioning. So I find it insulting when people like you and Joanna Brooks insinuate that the only way someone could not be just a cultural Mormon is if they have turned off their thinking capacity.

    Insulting, and just plain wrong.

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  36. bonnieblythe on March 21, 2012 at 4:22 PM

    SilverRain

    I thought about non-Mormon ethnic groups who are the covenant people as I wrote that, but I think we’re being time-limited on this. “Every knee shall bow” and a shortly coming day when all Abraham’s children will feel the pull of their blood indicates that God doesn’t think in terms of “Mormon.” To me, it is an ethnicity. I feel a commonality with Jews and Arabs, especially those who are stirred by the covenant mythology. So I guess this ethnicity, to me, transcends a definition as a Mormon. Genealogists say that it would be pretty hard to not have Israelite blood, so the ethnic argument is probably moot anyway. Ethnicity then becomes a spiritual heritage that’s as strong as a bloodline. Perhaps I should think of something better than “Mormon” to call myself. I’ll work on that.

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  37. Howard on March 21, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    Silver Rain,
    joanna Brooks does not speak for me nor I for her. I said nothing about the “only way” or turning off thinking capacity.

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  38. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 21, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    in what sense is Mormonism as an ethnic group *less* now than before?

    Would you hire someone because they were LDS in preference to someone else? Do you think of Mormons as insiders? Would you vote for someone for president because they were LDS if they were of the wrong party (what if the senator from Nevada were running for president and you were a Republican)?

    That is how ethnic groups act.

    There is still a lot of “behind the Jello curtain” but …

    And less all the time.

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  39. Mike S on March 21, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    I think being “Mormon” is an important identity for several reasons. And this is almost independent of someone’s activity.

    1) In today’s society, things like race are becoming increasingly less important with each generation, as mixed marriages become increasingly common. Additionally, with the shrinking of the world, nationality becomes less important. This causes things like “Mormonism” to have a relative rise. For example, I think I have more in common with a Mormon in the UK or Japan than I do with some people in the United States. So “Mormon” as a “group” is a valid thing.

    2) Additionally, for someone raised Mormon like me, my worldview is necessarily influenced by “Mormonism”. When I read about any other religion, be it Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc, I necessarily run concepts against the Mormon viewpoint on those same concepts. When I read scientific studies, there is necessarily some biasing against how they “fit” with a Mormon point-of-view. While I am active now and always have been, if I were ever to find myself “less-active”, this background wouldn’t change. I would always consider myself Mormon. It’s simply who I am, how I think, and a part of what makes me me.

    So, someone being able to claim the title “Mormon” is important. And, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter if someone else comes up with a criteria for what THEY THINK a “Mormon” needs to do/believe/etc. Joanna Brooks’ definition of Mormonism doesn’t define me, but neither does someone’s claim about BofM historicity define me. I define what me being a Mormon means to me.

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  40. hawkgrrrl on March 21, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    Silver Rain, I completely disagree with your characterization. I relate to what Bonnie is saying. I’m only a second gen Mormon, raised entirely outside Utah, but there is a Mormon culture that is “virtual” that exists across the world yet is not Utah culture. It is the culture of being in a misunderstood minority religious group, and that fits the definition of ethnic group as well.

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  41. prometheus on March 21, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    Thought provoking post. What is a Mormon? I think that if one self-identifies as a Mormon, that generally makes it so. One can quibble about records, baptism and such, but really, Mormon is a title, like Christian, that means different things to different people and is really hard to pin down. Shows up at church active? TR holder? Brought up in the faith? Ancestors were Mormon? Belief in the BofM? Belief in the doctrinal/theological package that Joseph Smith left us?

    My personal self definition is mainly based on the last two, but certainly that is not the only one that is possible.

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  42. Andrew S on March 21, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    re 25,

    Mike,

    And so on. Even “objective” questions aren’t so objective. My best interview I ever had was the last time I renewed my recommend. The counselor said that it was really between me and God. He had to go through the formality of asking the questions, but it came down to if I felt worthy to go to the temple.

    Yeah, that’s what I was getting at…but in this way, anti-Mormonism also becomes hopelessly subjective. Are you against Mormons? Maybe it’s just between you and God what Mormonism is, thus what you are against.

    re 28,

    Jeff,

    I guess there’s no accounting for taste…

    re 29,

    ji,

    Now, we need a gif for the site…

    re 30,

    BonnieBlythe,

    I can definitely see how that would factor into your experiences. (Also, I think it’s interesting how there can be different, and in fact, almost completely opposite “stereotypes” around certain boundaries…so to some, “Utah Mormon” conjures up the idea of a real TBM, intense etc.,…however, to others, when they think about “cultural Mormonism,” they think that’s something that happens because one lives in Utah…

    So, not only are boundaries divisive, but they seem to be totally ineffective, since people come to very different ideas about those boundaries…

    re 33,

    Howard,

    In other words, you couldn’t find a less emotional charged word to express that. Ah, I see.

    Let me give you a social pro-tip: “loaded words” don’t encourage discussion…they shut it down. They don’t provide “fertile ground to explore in answer to.” They provide a salted wasteland that will probably never grow plants for at least a hundred years.

    Here is what I think happens; teachings that are largely critically unexamined and unquestioned by the child student or believing accepting adult are layered into their belief system by well meaning teachers (hopefully no Botts but maybe so) over time when those beliefs are later logically challenged by an outsider the holder of those beliefs is unprepared to answer the logical challenge cognitive dissonance results and a response often an ego defense like insult occurs which seems to be very common in discussions of religion or politics or perhaps more authentically a shrug of the shoulders and an “I don’t know.” or “Well the brethren say this…”

    One thing that strikes me is that this isn’t unique to any one political or religious viewpoint. Rather, it happens to *everyone*. Even (and especially) the people who believe that it doesn’t happen to them.

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  43. Trevor on March 21, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    I think Mormonism is far bigger than the LDS Church (just ask FireTag :)), so I don’t necessarily think that adherence to current LDS principles, “core” or not, is a dependable criterion. (What is the difference in definition between “Mormon” and “LDS”?)

    Where do we draw the line in the sand regarding the definition of “Christian”? There’s great disagreement.

    As for me, I like to think of a Mormon as someone who self identifies as one and generally views the world through Mormon-influenced lenses, orthodox or not.

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  44. Trevor on March 21, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    To respond to SilverRain’s claims about “wordsmithing”, I don’t see how you aren’t engaging in that very activity yourself.

    Who says a true “Mormon” must believe the Book of Mormon is historical? Who says that’s a core tenet of Mormonism? You see, there’s not an objective arbiter of this kind of thing.

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  45. Andrew S on March 21, 2012 at 9:53 PM

    re 34,

    FireTag,

    That was and is still a good post.

    re 38,

    Stephen,

    Would you hire someone because they were LDS in preference to someone else? Do you think of Mormons as insiders? Would you vote for someone for president because they were LDS if they were of the wrong party (what if the senator from Nevada were running for president and you were a Republican)?

    That is how ethnic groups act.

    There is still a lot of “behind the Jello curtain” but …

    And less all the time.

    I think plenty of people informally do this (ESPECIALLY hiring/promoting Mormons). You say it yourself — it especially happens behind the “jello curtain.” I think the real issue is that a lot of the time, people don’t want to get hosed by some kind of anti-discrimination lawsuit (which is what would happen more and more in today’s society).

    As for the voting thing…if that’s the sign of an ethnicity, then I think ethnic identification is dying out equally along *all* lines, not just Mormon ones. I mean, no offense to black Republicans, but I simply wouldn’t vote for one just because they were black.

    Actually, for *both* of those, I would say that modernity has changed those behaviors for *all* ethnic groups. So it can’t be counted against Mormons…

    re 39,

    Mike,

    not to derail things, but I don’t think it follows that race is getting less important because:

    mixed marriages become increasingly common

    There is still a great stigma on mixed marriages (especially coming from the angle of “think of the children”)…and actually, mixed race children do show the deep lingering aspect of race in society…let’s put it this way, race is a lot about what you look like. so, if you look dark, then you won’t get a pass because technically, you’re *actually* 50% white or whatever. I mean, we’re not in a “1 drop” kind of situation where even if you look completely white, you get hosed…but we still have issues.

    That being said…

    This causes things like “Mormonism” to have a relative rise. For example, I think I have more in common with a Mormon in the UK or Japan than I do with some people in the United States. So “Mormon” as a “group” is a valid thing.

    …I don’t disagree with this.

    this background wouldn’t change. I would always consider myself Mormon. It’s simply who I am, how I think, and a part of what makes me me.

    While I feel the same way in general, I think the interesting thing is that plenty of people have said that, but have eventually changed so that they don’t consider themselves Mormon at all anymore. We are pretty bad at understanding what makes us us. We attach a bunch of things to our self-concept that is ultimately not ourselves…but since we rarely evaluate, we don’t realize that “we” have been changing constantly…

    re 40,

    hawkgrrrl,

    I feel quite similarly and with a similar background. Well said.

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  46. FireTag on March 21, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    Andrew:

    Thank you. Rereading my old post, it sounds like the last line really would apply to Joanna:

    “Experiencing being called into the wilderness isn’t a strange thing in Mormon history; it’s sort of what makes you one of the tribe in the first place.”

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  47. Howard on March 21, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    Andrew,
    No, I did not find find a less emotionally charged word to replace it, perhaps you know one that fits.

    Regarding loaded words Andrew wrote: They provide a salted wasteland that will probably never grow plants for at least a hundred years. Well, I disagree, to the extent that that they can be unloaded by exposing the dynamics involved it’s possible to learn from them and get to a better place than before the discussion began.

    I agree it happens to everyone it’s a mater of degrees but church is certainly different than school in this regard.

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  48. [...] was reading Andrew S’s article about Joanna Brooks over at Wheat and Tares: Who Puts the Mormon in Mormon Girl?I’m good friends with SilverRain and I was enjoying her comments on this thread as the [...]

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  49. hawkgrrrl on March 22, 2012 at 3:12 AM

    SilverRain – actually I want to revise my statement that I disagree with you. I am not sure I correctly understood your comment. When you said: “The ethnic group (which is more than just being there to help) would be all that is connoted by the term “Utah Mormon”” I took that to mean that Utah Mormons are the only cohesive group that constitutes a culture. You may have meant that, in which case I disagree. But if you didn’t mean that, I apologize for misunderstanding.

    The definition of ethnic: pertaining to or characteristic of a people, especially a group (ethnic group) sharing a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like. As such, ethnicity doesn’t have to be geographically centric, and it can encompass people with a common religious background regardless their current affiliations. And the dictionary doesn’t distinguish religious traditions from other distinctions such as race. Both are ethnic. Accordingly, while Utah Mormons may be a subculture of both Mormons and Americans, members from the diaspora can also have a common ethnicity that is familiar regardless of where you find Mormons.

    When I read Joanna’s book, this was part of what struck me. I did not relate to some aspects of Mormon culture she described that might be unique to Mormons from the west, those of pioneer heritage, or Southern California. For example, open political conservativism is something I only first encountered as a norm in the church when I went to BYU. I also didn’t know people in my neck of the woods who were stockpiling household goods in anticipation of the apocalypse. And I definitely didn’t hear people sharing many family stories that were about their pioneer ancestors (or when people did, we mostly thought they were showing off their famous relations since it was so rare). But there were plenty of commonalities to what she described aside from those things.

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  50. Bob on March 22, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    49:hawkgrrrl,
    The reason the Urban Legend of the Utah Mormons never dies is that there has been millions of confirmed Sightings over the years. I’ve had some myself.

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  51. Stephen Marsh on March 22, 2012 at 5:47 AM

    but there is a Mormon culture that is “virtual” that exists across the world yet is not Utah culture.

    Which, btw, is a core reason we have BYU.

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  52. Jeff Spector on March 22, 2012 at 6:21 AM

    I can testify (seriously?)that there is both a Mormon culture and a Utah Mormon culture and that one is heavily influenced by the other.

    I also think there is a Utah culture that is heavily influenced, if not driven by Mormon culture. At one time they were one and the same.

    But I also see a Utah Mormon culture that attempts or has attempted to influence overall Mormon culture.

    I know having been raised in California and joining the church in California that it is very different culturally in the church than where I live now in Colorado. church members are much more conservative here than they were there. Or at least as I perceive it.

    But yet, even in California, we had those old timers from Utah who espoused the “isn’t it great I was born a Mormon in Utah and not some poor person in China” stuff. I’ve frankly never heard that said here. Maybe that thinking is just dead now, I hope.

    In the final analysis, you cannot generalize anyone’s experience really. Since perception is reality, one’s own experience is truly their own and no two people see everything exactly the same.

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  53. SilverRain on March 22, 2012 at 7:35 AM

    Bonnie & Hawkgrrl—I think I see what you are saying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that being “Mormon” isn’t being a part of something. But it isn’t an ethnicity, it is a religious group. I’ll try to explain.

    First, I’ll clarify what I mean by “Mormon culture” relating to Utah Mormons. Culture contains things like general attitudes towards life, foods eaten, clothes worn. Those things which are uniquely “Mormon” such as green jello and funeral potatoes, cultivating obedience to leadership, or most of anything else you could describe as uniquely “Mormon” (as opposed to “Christian” or “American”) are all those things summed up by the phrase “Utah Mormon.” It doesn’t mean it is limited to Utah, just that all the things that are brought to mind by the term “Utah Mormon” are the things I consider part of the so-called “Mormon culture.”

    All the things which are NOT strictly “Utah Mormon,” but apply to almost all members of the LDS Church, for example, are firmly rooted in a common belief system. If you take away the beliefs, you also take away the culture (as Bruce mentioned in the trackback above.)

    If you expand “Mormon” to churches like RLDS, FLDS, and others, the commonality is a belief in the Book of Mormon as an actual account by an ancient people. You will note that I ever said this is a strict line, but that IF any line can be made delineating “Mormon” from all other religions or groups, a literal belief in the BoM would be it.

    I can believe that the Screwtape Letters, or the Shack, or any other inspiring works of fiction are inspired by God. But that isn’t enough to build a religion out of them. There has to be more. There can be allegories (such as the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5, or perhaps the story of Job) which can be included in the real framework without undermining its core. But in order to believe that the Nephites never really existed, you sap the so-called “Mormon culture” of everything that makes it what it is.

    Those who can claim to not believe in the literality of the BoM can dress up as a Mormon, and move among us, and even call themselves Mormon if they wish. I don’t begrudge them that. But they are not the ones who are creating the culture. They are just riding the coattails. And as long as they fight against the literal belief in the BoM (and other core doctrines of the Church,) they are fighting against the very things that make the culture what it is.

    So long as they discount the power of the culture gained by those beliefs, they will never find the indefinable “something” that keeps them fascinated by it.

    So, to sum up, when I try to think about what distinguishes someone who can call themselves “Mormon” from other religious groups, it is simply and obviously, the Book of Mormon. Hence the name, “Mormon.”

    A random Christian could call themselves a Mormon, but it wouldn’t mean anything without grounding it firmly in the Book of Mormon.

    I guess what I’m saying is that to try to divorce the Mormon culture from the Mormon religious beliefs is doomed to failure. The culture IS the beliefs. The religion IS the only binding factor (as I have witnessed, growing up in various states and countries.)

    My argument is not that Mormonism is not ethnic. It is that it cannot be ONLY ethnic the way Jews can be ethnic without subscribing to any of the religion.

    Trevor #44—The word “Mormon” itself connotes that. Those “Mormon lenses” EXIST because of the literal belief in the BoM and all that means to our relationship with Deity.

    And Jeff, I have to submit that being raised in California and living in Colorado is not enough distance from Utah to determine the difference between Utah Mormon culture and not. I have lived in places where the only similarities between that ward and a Utah ward is the basic structure of meetings. That’s not enough to constitute a culture.

    But what you say in your last sentence is completely valid, and the bulk of the issue I have with those who attempt to redefine Mormonism to their liking. We can’t even agree on a starting point, let alone an end goal.

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  54. Bob on March 22, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    As a missionary in the 60s, it was a mission rule, I could only have companions from Utah. But you could have Utah + Utah.

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  55. Bob on March 22, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    I was from California….

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  56. Jeff Spector on March 22, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    Silverrain and others,

    In the strictest sense, Mormonism IS NOT ethnic, it is pan-ethnic. In many ways, a Mormon in Tonga does not think the same as a Utah Mormon. They share some common cultural elements as a result of sharing the same religion, but culturally, they are light years apart. One can even see that here in the US between a Tongan congregation and a standard ward. Neither is bad, just different.

    I would disagree with Silverrain that we do not have the same starting point. I think we do. If we use Lehi’s dream as an analogy, we all start on the same path and gate, but just like those in the dream, we either stay on the path or wander off. It is not up to us as members to judge what happens to others, but to worry about ourselves.

    The end point is also the same. Who ends up there is really up to the Lord. While it is our adherence to the laws and ordinances that will drive our own result, we can only wait to see what really happens.

    We can have our opinion of what others definition of Mormon principles mean, but not the outcome.

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  57. hawkgrrrl on March 22, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    Andrew S – I have pondered that idea of whether the church correlates minds, and I still have to conclude that it doesn’t. It’s a strong, authoritative culture with correlated manuals, but people still interpret things in their own minds, and I am often surprised at how that nuance of personal interpretation, even among entirely literal believers, creates differences of understanding and opinion.

    I do think, however, that the church downplays that diversity of thought so much that members believe that they need to conform with whatever they believe is the party line. So there is low tolerance of diversity of thought, but there is also low awareness of it. Yet, I maintain that it does exist far more than it is acknowledged.

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  58. hawkgrrrl on March 22, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Silver Rain: I agree that the root of the commonalities (aside from maybe Utah Mormonism – maybe that goes further to your point; perhaps Polynesian Mormonism also has its own subculture) is a shared set of beliefs and doctrines. But in the dictionary definition, an ethnicity can be based on common religion. It need not be cultural beyond that. And non-geographic Mormonism does in fact exist, based on the roots of faith and a dogged persistence in the face of being misunderstood on a daily basis. It’s that third culture phenomenon. The big difference between Mormon culture outside of Utah and Mormon culture inside of Utah is how one behaves when in a minority vs. in a majority. And the funeral potatoes.

    Personally, I think there is a straw man argument in here somewhere, although I’m not sure where it came from in this thread, that Mormon culture can exist without beliefs as some sort of social club with all the benefit and none of the sexual hang ups (for example). I don’t know who in this thread is presumed to be saying that. I’m not saying it, and I don’t see who is. However, as Jeff points out, we all start out at the same point – in a culture rooted in the beliefs and the practices (Word of Wisdom, seminary, Relief Society, FHE) that support those beliefs – but even those who no longer believe are still part of the broader Mormon culture. Even ex-insiders are pretty much insiders until they get taken of the home teaching routes (that’s my own subjective line in the sand anyway).

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  59. SilverRain on March 22, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    I agree hawkgrrrl. I’m only saying that if there is one belief that comes closest to being the defining belief of a “Mormon,” it would be literal belief in the BoM people. If you take that away, much of what makes the rest of the cultural belief falls into general Christianity.

    Which is why I said it is more similar at that point to Protestantism.

    Again, I am not saying that there is no ethnic basis to being “Mormon,” but that if you try to be “Mormon” without the beliefs that make “Mormon” what it is, you aren’t really being “Mormon.” You can call yourself Mormon, but you’re just riding the coattails of the culture that is created by others who DO believe those things. Because the “good stuff” of Mormonism, the “loving God” that Joanna describes wanting to teach her children, that all comes from believing that God actually did the things for mankind that the BoM and the Joseph Smith story claim He did.

    Jeff, you misread me. What I mean is that when it comes to “changing the Church,” I can’t even agree with people like Joanna, who want to recreate it to be “more accepting” or “more open” to lack of literal faith, as to what “the Church” actually is. Their experiences or interpretation of experiences growing up do not match my own. I find that much of “the Church” is already far more like what they want to change it into than what they think it currently is.

    Even in Utah.

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  60. bonnieblythe on March 22, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    SilverRain

    I appreciate your logic. I think it’s sound. I agree with many of your observations and it’s good to see that your basis is

    My argument is not that Mormonism is not ethnic. It is that it cannot be ONLY ethnic the way Jews can be ethnic without subscribing to any of the religion.

    I can agree with that completely. I can also accept (though I do not agree) that

    I guess what I’m saying is that to try to divorce the Mormon culture from the Mormon religious beliefs is doomed to failure. The culture IS the beliefs. The religion IS the only binding factor (as I have witnessed, growing up in various states and countries.)

    This is where we diverge, though it may be a case of semantics, because “Mormonism” in my view is something that we will leave behind as we embrace the brotherhood of man, much as we left the law of Moses behind (carrying the vital aspects forward) when it was fulfilled. I think that (as the widely variant personal experience of just those who read this blog indicates) we have a lot of subcultures within that larger Mormon culture and they serve to bump us together, rubbing off our edges and sharp points, and either spin us out or move us forward to an acceptance of what, to me, is the primary basis for our ethnicity: being descended from or adopted by Abraham and tasked with blessing the earth.

    While I embrace the Book of Mormon as the most perfect of any book, am led by its teachings, and find the plan laid out beautifully in it, it is just a book. It is a record, not the substance. The substance is in the covenants, handed down by the patriarchs, protected by Abraham, and passed through the lineage of Jacob, nourished by the Jews (if unknowingly), and restored by those holding keys to Joseph Smith. The covenants are our culture, our heritage, and our ultimate ethnicity.

    Mormonism, in my view, is our interpretation, changing over time and distinct regionally, of how we do what we’ve been tasked to do. It is a human construct like the law of Moses, meant to direct us to a greater discipleship. Such, it is sometimes flawed, narrow, and insufficient, so we press forward with a perfect brightness of hope to the something greater our covenants offer.

    I still haven’t decided what to call myself. I am a Mormon, in my own definition and frequently in others’, but I am also a vineyard servant, a keeper of the covenant, a virgin with a lamp: all things that predated “Mormonism” and which will outlive it.

    I have the blood of Israel coursing through my veins, as my PB tells me, and I am as enlivened by my descent from Abraham as any Jew or Muslim. I am grateful for the culture of Mormonism which has given shape to my ethnicity, protected and informed it, but it is not just a belief. There is something to that blood, an RNA imprint that reproduces and gives me structure. In some way unknown to me, it is bequeathed to those who are adopted, but it is not just the belief.

    I grew up in the near South, and I know a lot of black people who eat fried chicken and watermelon and believe that white people are out to get them. That belief does not define black ethnicity, and there are more subcultures among black people than there are among Mormons, I guarantee. Belief is an important cohesive element in a culture, but it is not the only means whereby a culture can self-define.

    Genetically, there is no gene for race, or even species. What we do acquire is genetic clusters. Many of those genetic clusters are long-standing adaptations to the environment in which an ethnic group lives. I would assert that Mormon cultural adaptations are similar to ethnic adaptations: they suit the cultures in which we live. Physical characteristics alter over generations as we move and intermarry, or grow and alter our discipleship.

    None of this alters who we are. There is a reason patriarchal blessings always give our lineage. That is an ethnicity that counts. Family lineage, by blood or adoption, supersedes our beliefs. It is the carrier of the covenant memory, written right there in our DNA. It is validated and protected as we are sealed to one another, parents to children, all the way back to the Adams.

    But, it’s all semantics, I think, and we’re debating something tertiary. I get what you’re saying and I’m glad to share this Mormon culture with you in all its definitions.

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  61. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    Silver Rain wrote: literal belief in the BoM people. If you take that away, much of what makes the rest of the cultural belief falls into general Christianity.. How is that so?

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  62. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    How is that so?

    Point to me one doctrinal difference between the Book of Mormon and the theology of “general Christianity”.

    I would say that believing in the content of the Book of Mormon is not much different than believing in the content of the Bible — or it would produce no different results in people.

    But believing in the Book of Mormon as a time-and-space artifact that was contained on physical gold plates translated by Joseph Smith in the historical past — that’s something entirely different than what the Bible is about.

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  63. Bob on March 22, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    #57:hawkgrrrl,
    “I have pondered that idea of whether the church correlates minds, and I still have to conclude that it doesn’t. It’s a strong, authoritative culture with correlated manuals, but people still interpret things in their own minds”.
    You might want to review Correltion as H.B. Lee put it together. He picked 72 words that everyone interpreted in their own minds differently, yet thought everyone interpreted the same. This was the Correlation he sought.

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  64. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    justin wrote: that’s something entirely different than what the Bible is about. So is believing in Santa Clause but we leave that behind as children. Are you saying we have little else that sets us apart from Christian faiths?

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  65. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    Are you saying we have little else that sets us apart from Christian faiths?

    Based on the theology contained in the Book of Mormon — yeah, that’s what I was saying.

    As a Baptist minister has put it:

    I’m a licensed Southern Baptist minister and I embrace the Book of Mormon.

    That is, I believe the truths recorded in it. No, I’m not a convert to the Mormon faith, nor am I a member of any particular “spin-off” restoration group [...]

    I’m still a Baptist minister. To be exact, I’m “charismatic Baptist.” That is, I still embrace the “born again” experience. I still believe you’re saved by grace. By the shed blood of Christ. Salvation is by faith alone in His finished work on Calvary. I still believe in the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. I believe and embrace those cardinal doctrines of Protestantism.

    And you know what?…

    I still believe the Book of Mormon too!

    I know. I can hear you now. “…A charismatic Baptist minister who believes the Book of Mormon?! Impossible. That’s like a Protestant Pope…” No, it’s not. It’s not a contradiction.

    The two go hand in hand, really [...]

    The Book of Mormon is filled with Protestant cardinal doctrines, believe it or not. In fact, I discovered, the Book of Mormon is more “Baptist” than the Baptist hymnal in places.

    I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s so. I read the Book from cover to cover and found as a Baptist minister, there is absolutely nothing in it that contradicts the Bible.

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  66. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    … but now to have a book who’s very existence rests on being the most correct in the sense that it was entirely written and interpreted by the spirit of prophecy and revelation and has been the least touched by man-made operations as have other books that have been sent forth by God [such as the Bible].

    The very existence of a book that rests on the simple fact that it is entirely the work of prophets, seers, revelators, and translators — with minimal input from men operating under their own power.

    That is something that presents to the world a prophecy and revelation-based reality that contradicts the assumptions under which the works of men and the works of the devil operate.

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  67. bonnieblythe on March 22, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Justin, thank you for that link! What a fascinating read. I’d never heard of Lynn before. My “child of Israel” sensors are going nuts!

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  68. Jeff Spector on March 22, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    I clicked the link and I must say, I am not quite sure what to make of that whole thing.

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  69. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    The very existence of a book that rests on the simple fact that it is entirely the work of prophets, seers, revelators, and translators — with minimal input from men operating under their own power.. The least input from men would come from God revealing the words of the BoM through a single Prophet, Jospeh.

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  70. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    I think it would have been easier to believe in the historicity of the BoM when it was published before science, technology and exploration became so prevelant. Today you can read it make your own relative map and scan Google Earth looking for a place that matches it. Many have done something similar but no one claims success. What is the value of a history of a people that cannot be found aside from making us different because we believe in it when science does not?

    After much questioning and parsing with the Spirit I have born my testimony to it being inspired fiction. If you have done the same I would love to hear yours supporting the historicity of it.

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  71. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Howard — I get your inspired-fiction nuance of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. And I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong or that it means you believe the Book of Mormon to be “uninspired” or anything like that.

    It’s just when you are talking about the direct implantation of the content of the Book of Mormon into the brain of Joseph Smith as a single allegorical story as a way to teach true doctrines — you miss out on things that apply to the truth of the record in physical history, such as the future leadership role of Manassehites in the church of Christ on the American continent.

    If there are no Lehite descendents literally on the American continent [because the whole story about them was "made up" as a way to teach true doctrinal content], then the prophecies in the Book of Mormon concerning Lehi’s seed cannot be fulfilled [because no one actually exists who could fulfill them].

    So I guess if you want to ask me about:

    If you have done the same I would love to hear yours supporting the historicity of it.

    then that would be my response. The content is great and the content is true — but as content the doctrine/theology is not much different than any other branch of Christianity.

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  72. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    Justin,
    My belief does not exclude BoM prophecy. Are we to believe the blood of Abraham literally flows in the veins of all who accept the gospel? Isn’t this a metaphor of lineage?

    Isn’t BoM content what we find relevant? It’s supposed to be a second testament of Christ, I’m not surprised nor am I concerned that the content of the BoM isn’t very different from other branches of Christianity. By not insisting on BoM histrocity it will make it easier to convert them we have other attractive doctrines of interest to set us aside like being sealed as families forever.

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  73. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    Lehi prophesied concerning his seed — the seed of Nephites and the seed of the Lamanites — as a branch of the tribe of Mannasseh. So:

    My belief does not exclude BoM prophecy.

    Are you suggesting that an LDS baptism makes someone into a literal descendent of a branch of Israel that never actually literally existed?

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  74. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    I’m suggesting metaphors of lineage are not uncommon in church doctrine and they are well accepted, consider patriarchal blessings. Why does this cause an insurmountable problem with the BoM?

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  75. Andrew S on March 22, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    I’ll get to the new comments when I get off work, but with respect to Justin and Howard’s back and forth, I just wanted to quip.

    re 73,

    It’s like the Mormon version of transubstantiation!

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  76. Dave on March 22, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Thanks for the discussion, Andrew. I’d just like to clarify that in my review I was portraying Joanna as leaving activity, not as ending formal membership, then choosing to return to activity. It is fairly clear to LDS readers of the book this is what happened, although the LDS terms and categories don’t match up well with the terms and categories other denominations use to describe membership and participation so it may be unclear or confusing to non-LDS readers of the book.

    So she did leave and come back, but (as far as I know) without requesting or undergoing any change in her formal membership status.

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  77. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    I said in #71 that I don’t find [by necessity] anything wrong with your metaphoric viewpoint of being religously “true”, as concepts.

    I’ve written some about that idea in a post, Taking our myths literally.

    But let’s be consistent now — is the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of this “Christ” of whom the Book of Mormon is “supposed to be a second testament of” literal, historical, and time-and-space realities of a phycially-existent personage — or is He “inspired fiction” too?

    Do you take it all the way back to Jesus — or do you just stop at the Book of Mormon because you find it un-verifiable scientifically? On what grounds would you say one is literal history and one is an inspired metaphor? Isn’t the resurrection of “the Christ” just as un-verifiable as you say the Book of Mormon is?

    What about our “metaphorical lineage” to Abraham? By the same reasoning that you could make his lineage metaphorical — couldn’t we make him metaphorical too — like you’ve done with Lehi?

    I’m not saying I out-right disagree with a theology that says whether or not scriptural events “really happened” or scriptural characters “really existed” is largely irrelevent — but that what’s important is that they exist.

    Others have expressed the idea that all mythic stories are important for what they mean. That it’s that that makes them “true” and “real” — because they are happening right now in the lives of the people who live them.

    In this worldview, Jesus’ resurrection is that “He” is living in the people today who live their life in “Him”.

    But now we are talking about something entirely different altogether [which I think was SilverRain's point].

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  78. SilverRain on March 22, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    Bonnie: “This is where we diverge, though it may be a case of semantics, because “Mormonism” in my view is something that we will leave behind as we embrace the brotherhood of man . . . “

    I don’t see how that diverges from what I’m saying. It is not tautologous. We can easily divorce the beliefs from the culture, but we can’t divorce the culture from the beliefs. That is, actually, my point.

    The blessing ethnicity you describe is not “Mormon.”

    Howard—I explained it in the comment you took the quote from. You are entitled to your personal witness that the BoM is not what it claims to be. But you are wrong to claim that it CANNOT be resolved with science. There are plenty of vastly intelligent scientist who have managed it.

    And it is insulting to suggest, as you did before, that such resolution can only be obtained through self-delusion.

    Justin—precisely. The BoM’s existence as a genuine record, however it was translated, has a colossal meaning which sets the word “Mormon” apart from any other Christian label. Without it, “Mormon” has very little meaning. People can call themselves “Mormon” without that belief, but the significance of the label is severely diminished; I would argue almost to the point of nonexistence. Whereas being “Mormon,” but without the funeral potatoes, white shirts, and knit skirts still has incredible cultural significance.

    Could it be we actually agree on something? ;) I think the orbits of the heavens just paused for a moment.

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  79. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    Could it be we actually agree on something? I think the orbits of the heavens just paused for a moment.

    Let’s enjoy it for a moment — because who knows how long it may last…

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  80. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    This line of questioning can be taken in both directions. Do you believe Eve encountered a literal snake that talked? I guess it doesn’t matter if a mortal man named Jesus lived out the the story of Christ or not. What is important is that we believe he did because it makes it easier to relate to him, what he went through and what it means for us. Much of the world buys it fact or not. The same cannot be said of the BoM.

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  81. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    Silver Rain you are reading into my comments and then taking insult from your reading.

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  82. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    This line of questioning can be taken in both directions.

    Yeah — that’s my point.

    On what grounds can you come down “metaphoric” on the Book of Mormon, but “literal” on the Fall, the Resurrection, etc.?

    I don’t see anything wrong with that viewpoint on religious narratives per se — I just see a problem if it is going to be inconsistently applied to things [depending on whether you want to "deal with it" as literal, historical reality or not].

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  83. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    So you require consistency. Do you consistently apply it? If you believe the BoM to be literal do you believe the same of the Bible as far as it is translated correctly?

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  84. Justin on March 22, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    So you require consistency

    …as opposed to what? Should I require inconsistency — lol.

    Howard — I’m not saying any-and-every thing in the word of God has to be either metaphorical or literal — I’m saying the criteria used to determine which is which must be a consistent criteria.

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  85. bonnieblythe on March 22, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    SilverRain,

    Hmm. Tautologous or not, I definitely think we are now talking past one another. That’s usually the time to hug and wave.

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  86. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    Justin when things don’t make sense I consult the Spirit that’s how I came to the idea that the BoM is fiction inspired or revealed by God.

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  87. Heber13 on March 22, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    Mormons can believe literally, or metaphorically, they can be active or not as active, they can be strict orthodox or liberal. All of that can still be mormon.

    I think it comes down to accepting the basic doctrines, even if there are tenants that allow variation in beliefs.

    To me, being mormon means you pretty much accept the 13 Articles of Faith and have been baptized sometime in your life.

    Everything else is variation of that mormonism, and I wish people weren’t so exclusive or categorical about it, as if there was some “real” mormonism and “less than” mormonism.

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  88. Andrew S on March 22, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    Once again, I’ll be making more comments when I get off of work, but I wanted to respond to one thing…

    re 76,

    Dave,

    Thanks for commenting. One thing I would note is that in your clarification here, there seems to be another dimension added: it seems to me that “activity” is conflated with “the church.” (So, “leaving activity [and returning to activity]” as per your comment seems to be your clarification of your article’s section “leaving the church [and coming back])

    I will certainly have to reflect upon that…how can we distinguish between those who have “left activity” (become inactive/less active, etc.,) and those who have “left the church”? So now we have a few things to juggle…belief (which Joanna doesn’t really share in the way that those like Silver Rain and Bruce [in his response article] are talking about)…activity…and a number of other things (“culture”). Is the church synonymous with activity (and then “Mormonism” is something else)?

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  89. FireTag on March 22, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    SilverRain: #59

    I tend to draw the distinction about the BofM at what is implied about the existence and purpose of an inspir-er rather than the nature, content, and form of the inspiration. I could live with an inspired document that was ALL metaphor if that was where the evidence pointed. But it has to be “actionable intelligence” — it has to be given by God for a specific purpose that requires me to ask why THIS metaphor, and what am I supposed to do with it.

    If the BofM doesn’t have a status equiv to an NT book, then I might as well be a protestant. Later D&C sections may be a separate issue; prophets can fall, but you don’t start looking for a prophet who you have no reason to think ever “rose”.

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  90. YvonneS on March 22, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    So many comments, not enough time to read them all. This is an interesting discussion. In my view a Mormon is anyone whose name is on the records of the church. If a persons name is not on the records of the church they are not members of the church. Being a member of the church is sufficient.

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  91. LDS Anarchist on March 22, 2012 at 5:45 PM

    Howard #86,

    Justin when things don’t make sense I consult the Spirit that’s how I came to the idea that the BoM is fiction inspired or revealed by God.

    Just out of curiosity, how do you know that the revelation you received from the Spirit that the BoM was inspired fiction, wasn’t itself an inspired fiction? If the Lord can give Joseph an inspired fiction as a revelation, surely He can do the same with you, right? Where does one draw the line or how does one discern which revelation given is just a fiction?

    And, if the Spirit gave you an inspired fiction as a revelation, concerning the BoM being an inspired fiction, wouldn’t that mean that the BoM is not an inspired fiction, basing it solely on your personal revelation? Kind of a confirmatory non-confirmation of the BoM?

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  92. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 6:10 PM

    This is a very good question. One thing I find interesting about it is that I have not studied this question and I am certainly not a scriptorian. So I just put it out there on the bloggernacle and so far few of the faithful seem to like it but no one has a compelling argument against it. Could be dumb luck or it could be inspiration.

    I’ve been following the spirit since 2003 it has cost me much in materialism but I have gained much more than I lost spiritually so I have learned to trust the Spirit. We don’t have God’s knowledge so we must be taught in dumbed down lessons that approximate the truth or start our thinking off in generally the right direction to be followed later by a course correction. I think of it as being taught in stair steps of metaphorical paradigms and I accept that fiction is often a better medium than fact for this purpose. To me this explains the difference from the OT to the NT for instance.

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  93. FireTag on March 22, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    Howard:

    I have a different blend of science and Spirit in my background. I was actually commanded to study science in an “inspired” dream as a boy, and ended up becoming a physicist.

    I can imagine many more ways for there to be a literal God whose interactions with the physical universe are consistent with modern physics (and modern psychology) than can most people, I suppose. But I do accept the notion that there does have to ultimately be consistency. Physical reality as delusion is not somewhere I’m planning to go.

    But I don’t think this is a problem particularly with the Book of Mormon. If we had a time machine that would allow us to get to 200 AD, we’d probably have MORE problems with the scientific underpinnings of early Christianity than with the early Restoration.

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  94. Howard on March 22, 2012 at 9:20 PM

    FireTag,
    I agree and I think that was implied in the back and forth by Justin and I.

    The Bible had a significant head start on the BoM and reached mass acceptance, the BoM has not. In addition metaphorical interpretations of the Bible are widely accepted. A literal or historically accurate BoM becomes harder and harder to accept as time goes on absent new evidence. So while they both have problems it plays out differently for each.

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  95. [...] response to my post at Wheat & Tares, “Who puts the Mormon in Mormon Girl“, Bruce N wrote a comprehensive post at Millennial Star to address the secret behind the [...]

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  96. FireTag on March 22, 2012 at 11:04 PM

    Howard:

    I’m not sure I understand your last comment. I am enough of a realist to presume that our inability to measure the “contradictions” with science of Early Christian scriptures does not make those contradictions any less real. However much people today may regard early Christian stories (or Old Testament stories) as metaphorical, many of them were NOT metaphorical at their core, or no community would have grown up around them that could have thrived for 2000 years.

    Myth has to form from a core of real events that sustains it. Even if people take up the study of Elvish and make Hobbit cloaks to honor the myth of LOTR, there would have to be an utter collapse of society for anyone to think Middle Earth was history. Early Christians weren’t going to the arena for the right to wear their equiv of Hobbit cloaks. Early Israelites didn’t remember the Passover because nothing remarkable happened in the process of coming into Canaan.

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  97. Andrew S on March 22, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    re 53,

    Silver Rain,

    Ultimately I agree with what you’ve written here:

    I guess what I’m saying is that to try to divorce the Mormon culture from the Mormon religious beliefs is doomed to failure. The culture IS the beliefs. The religion IS the only binding factor (as I have witnessed, growing up in various states and countries.)

    That being said, I still do *not* think that but for belief in the Book of Mormon, calling oneself Mormon is “meaningless.” You can have shared experiences and strivings with the Mormon community *without* believing in the Book of Mormon. (I agree, however, that what kick-started these strivings in the FIRST place was literal belief…and what continues to perpetuate it is the base of people who literally believe…and to that extent, cultural Mormons are essentially parasites to the religion.)

    re 62, 65, 66, etc.,

    Justin, lovin the comments.

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  98. GBSmith on March 23, 2012 at 6:34 AM

    “and to that extent, cultural Mormons are essentially parasites to the religion.”

    Nice to have my status clarified. Does that mean that I don’t have to pay tithing, magnify my calling, mourn with those that mourn…? Just wondering.

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  99. SilverRain on March 23, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    Andrew—By “very little meaning” (not “meaningless”) I meant without significant distinction from several other labels, not without existential or personal meaning. Of course it would still have that, or else people wouldn’t use it.

    Howard—You act like I’m stretching your meaning. How else are phrases like “indoctrination,” “isolating and compartmentalizing them or hopping (sic) for a miracle,” “resorting to psychologically defensive gymnastics and spin,” the connotation of “layering in” vs. “critically examined” beliefs, or comparing belief in the literal BoM to a childish belief in Santa Claus?

    You are trying to deny it and blame me for “reading into” your words, but the problem is that your deniability is not plausible. You are biased in that you feel that people who believe there actually were Nephites are delusional, and your bias shines through loud and clear, despite your protests to the contrary. It is insulting, and wrong. There are plenty of intelligent people who question their beliefs and still come to the conclusion that it is real, with no need to defend their psyche.

    You mention your testimony against the literal BoM in #12, switch almost entirely from focusing on rational arguments to testimonial ones in comment #70, then claim that there is no “good argument” against your testimony. Of course there isn’t. If you really have a testimony about the non-literality of the BoM, no rational argument can go against it. They are two different realms.

    I don’t care if you got a testimony that opposes mine. That is entirely between you and God. But you can’t put out your testimony and then “prove” it is true because of lack of arguments against. Fallacy at its finest.

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  100. SilverRain on March 23, 2012 at 7:55 AM

    And, I might add, that I don’t like the term “parasite” because it is loaded with detrimental connotation. Not all who are dependent are parasitical. I don’t think that cultural Mormons are “parasites,” even if they are dependent upon those who belief to create the culture they enjoy. I believe they still have a lot to add to the Church.

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  101. SilverRain on March 23, 2012 at 7:55 AM

    *believe.

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  102. GBSmith on March 23, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Sorry but I don’t see where believers are responsible for the culture I enjoy and that I’m somehow dependent on them. A good share of my family go back as far as Nauvoo and beyond and few regularly darkened a ward house door but still considered themselves Mormon. My dad never failed to show up to thin beets or haul hay on the church farm but never came to church until just before his death. Was he not allowed to call himself Mormon until those last few months. Is this a church or a club?

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  103. Howard on March 23, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    SilverRain,
    Your are being disingenuous, you cropped my comments to support being personally insulted. No insult was intended. Being insulted is a psychological defense that makes use of the line between social acceptability and unacceptability as a trump card by seizing the high ground.

    In #35 you admit some of your church experience “could be considered indoctrination”. I strongly suspect you’re right. Look the word up, it is an accurate description of what typically goes on with children in the church.

    In #12 I asked a question: How does one simultaneously believe in science and the historicity of the BoM without… Now insert your cropped sound bites. It’s a question. Instead of being insulted what don’t you simply answer the question?

    I said nothing about delusional nor did I imply it and you’re wrong I don’t “feel that people who believe there actually were Nephites are delusional”. I cared for a woman who was delusional due to Alzheimers so I am very familiar with it and this isn’t it. But this is a good example of your reading into my comments and exaggerating them.

    If you have parsed this question with the Spirit beyond simply asking is the BoM true I would love to hear your testimony of the historicity of the BoM.

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  104. Andrew S. on March 23, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    re 98, 100,

    GBSmith, SilverRain,

    I guess I feel that ultimately, things come down to 1) tithing and 2) willingness to evangelize. To the extent that a cultural Mormon doesn’t or can’t do one or another (e.g., they aren’t active in sharing the BoM as a history that applies for everyone because they don’t think it is historical…), then whatever *else* they have to add to the church really pales in comparison to these central concerns.

    (So, GB, if you’re saying you still pay tithing, would preach to others that the church is the true church, share with them the BoM, etc., then I don’t think “parasite” applies. But I guess my point was…the church continues because there *are* people who do these things.)

    re 99

    SilverRain,

    Wow, sorry. No one used “meaningless” this entire conversation so I don’t know why I put that in there…

    I guess, however, that I’m wondering where “existential or personal meaning” differs from “significant distinction from several other labels.”

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  105. SilverRain on March 23, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    Howard, I did answer the question. You just chose to ignore it. It is not disingenuous to bring up the concrete examples of your phraseology which are insulting by suggesting that people are delusional who are able to both enjoy concrete science and believe in concrete things.

    Just so you know, I am not insulted by you. You don’t have the power to insult me. Your phrases are insulting in a much less personal way.

    You can continue to protest, but the proof is in the pudding. I’m done with this.

    Andrew—Because I was using the term “meaning” in a very narrow sense. I meant, specifically, that there isn’t much significant difference in labeling oneself Mormon if one doesn’t believe in the existence of the people who wrote the Book of Mormon. So much of LDS doctrine (and that, from what I know, of RLDS, FLDS, etc.) depends upon that. Without the Book of Mormon and everything it claims to be, there wouldn’t BE Mormons today, not like they are now.

    On the other hand, I can see how it might have deep personal, sentimental, traditional, or heritage-rooted meaning for an individual. Which is why I don’t begrudge people who want to call themselves Mormon without the belief. It takes a lot of work and pain to truly, internally, rip off a label we once wore, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to keep it on.

    As I said, I believe such people can have a lot to offer the Church, too, assuming they aren’t trying to change it from within.

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  106. SilverRain on March 23, 2012 at 2:55 PM

    In other words, more simply, most labels have external and internal meaning. I was addressing the external meaning without intending to include internal meaning in what I said.

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  107. Howard on March 23, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    I am not insulted by you. You don’t have the power to insult me. Beautiful SR! I am very happy to know that you know this.

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  108. Jeff Spector on March 23, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    This is not my thread, but I think the insults and back and forth needs to stop now.

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  109. GBSmith on March 23, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    Andrew S

    “(So, GB, if you’re saying you still pay tithing, would preach to others that the church is the true church, share with them the BoM, etc., then I don’t think “parasite” applies.”

    I do pay tithing but I don’t know where you got the rest of it. Maybe parasite does apply since I can pretend to be something I’m not and as long as I keep quiet no one will know.

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  110. Justin on March 23, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    #108 — Who’s insulting?

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  111. meg on March 23, 2012 at 8:29 PM

    Italians are an ethnic group. Catholics are not. Italian-Catholics may cross into both just as Utah Mormons may. But it doesn’t mean
    all Mormons have the same background anymore than saying Catholics all have the same background. There are cultural differences–not religious differences.

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  112. Howard on March 24, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    Bruce Nielson wrote an article at M called The Secret in the Mormon Sauce: Sacrifice for Literal Beliefs referring to this article and thread. I wanted to let everyone know that I am being censored my recent comments have been deleted on M so I am unable to respond to Jettboy, Nate and Adam G.

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  113. Howard on March 24, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    On M Jettboy characterized believing in the BoM as inspired fiction as sin. Adam G in 35 appears to be implying the same. Ray questioned Jettboy; “Seeing something as figurative instead of literal is sinning?” But upon learning that Jettboy limited it to the BoM issue seemed to accept it.

    Is believing in the BoM as inspired fiction sin? Would one better off to reject the BoM altogether?

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  114. Bob on March 24, 2012 at 1:09 PM

    #113: Howard,
    IMO, to say “inspired fiction” is only a magically way of turning a fiction back into a non-fiction by saying “Somehow God made it happen”. It ends none of the debates about the BoM.

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  115. Howard on March 24, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    Bob
    Well for me it does it ends the dissonance of trying to believe in places for which no tngible evidence exists and in people who apparently vanished without a trace.

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  116. [...] the teachings of Abraham, and when to tell the kids the “whole story.” Also, what exactly is a Mormon anyway? Or an Ex-Mormon, for that matter? And heaven help an intelligent [...]

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  117. [...] it about? What is the purpose? Open Stories Foundation executive director John Dehlin, president (and perpetually popular) Joanna Brooks, and board member Brian Johnston (of stayLDS.*com*) state it as [...]

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  118. Sean on April 20, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    Regardless of what she used to do (we all have our own spiritual journies; what matters is the destination.), I think what she’s doing is great. The Book of Mormon needs the exposure she gives it, for it’s truly a life-changing book that must be read by all.

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  119. [...] latest post, “What puts the Mormon in Mormon Girl?” is up at Wheat and Tares. It’s another post about another review of Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl, but [...]

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  120. postmormongirl on June 25, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    I think an ex-Mormon is a person who has made a conscious break with Mormon theology, as opposed to a lapsed member, who may not attend but still believes.

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  121. [...] In a sense, my being a cultural Mormon is descriptive more than prescriptive. My appreciation for my heritage is a good faith identification with myself — perhaps even a rationalization — rather than an endorsement. I certainly recognize that cultural Mormons, as it were, are “parasites” to orthodox Mormons (don’t know where I originally came across this phrasing, but ctrl+f for “parasite” to see me use it in the discussion here). [...]

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