Social Roles and The Theatre of Mormonism

By: Jake
August 9, 2012

Our lives are governed by social roles. From the the minute we first speak we are indoctrinated in a set of social scripts that determine the way we behave and act in certain situations. Social roles are the set of expectations which are imposed upon us that we expected to play and conform to. As Shakespeare phrased it:

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts.”

(As you Like It, Act II Scene VII)

Or as Macbeth phrased it in his memorable passage:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, Act V Scene I)

Shakespeare was speaking about what many psychologist now think is a universal part of humanity. That it is a truth for everyone to accept social roles and play out these parts, certainly the sociologist Robert Ezra Park thought so when he said:

‘Everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role… It is in these roles that we know each other; it is in these roles that we know ourselves.’ (Race and Culture, 1950, p249)

One of the advantages of being a member is that you have a very well defined set of social roles. As a missionary this stood out to me when I was reading the white handbook that provided me with the missionary rules. It essentially was making explicit the social rules that as a missionary you were expected to conform to. The new missionary hand book – I say new as it came out on my mission but it is now in fact 8 years old – demonstrates this. It is full of phrases that are imperative in their tone and state what is expected, for instance in the section on Charity and Love it says:

‘when you are filled with charity, you obey God’s commandments… you will avoid negative feelings such as anger, envy, lust, or covetousness.’

The tone of the whole section is imposing a set of expectations and behaviours that certain attributes the missionary should have if they are to conform to the role of a charitable person. In another passage it very clearly states that ‘you can know you have been a successful missionary when…’ and then lists ten signs that are seen to embody what a successful missionary is. The whole manual is a way of defining the role of a missionary and outlines what a missionary must do to perform this role convincingly.

socially acceptable hypocrite Accountability Part 2: The Socially Acceptable HypocriteMissionaries are not the only ones in the church that have very clearly defined roles in the theatre of Mormonism. The church has narratives and expectations for every single member from the primary child with its rituals of reverence to the codes of decorum expected of Bishops and Stake Presidents. You only have to look through the past few Priesthood and Relief Society general conference sessions to see how the Church articulates and cultivates a set of behaviours that define the various social roles that members are expected to conform to. Part of this social role is wearing the correct uniform and outfit. As Hawkgrrrl pointed out a few weeks ago we have a very well defined uniform that we must conform to if we are to play our role correctly. The psychologist Philip Zimbardo also noticed this in the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which he created a mock prison for students that got out of hand within four days. One of the things that Zimbardo noted was the psychological power of the uniforms in cultivating the role of prisoner and guard as he said:

“The source of their power is to be found in the psychological material that went into each group’s subjective constructions of the meaning of these uniforms.” (ZImbardo, The Lucifer Effect, p.221)

Perhaps this is why members become so fanatical in the devotion to following the church uniform. Following the code of dress is crucial to the cultivation of the social role of a ‘righteous’ member of the church. When we endow the clothes that we wear with a greater meaning as a signifier of our righteousness, or to put it in church speak “an outward sign of an inward commitment,” they become a key part in the social performance and the self-expression of this role. To allow deviation from this uniform risks undermining the system that supports it. Flip flops and second earrings are not sinful in themselves, but the fact that they undermine the traditional role and narratives that the church wants members to perform that endows them with being a threat to the system.

It is worth remembering that the church is an institution and like any institution; it has systems that create situations and ideologies. The church is a system that both creates and preserves social roles by giving us sets of rules. To allow an alternate set of roles outside of those prescribed by the church undermines its authority as a system. The church requires strict adherence to the uniform and the set behavioural patterns such as reading your scriptures daily, family home evening, home teaching etc. because conformity in the performance of righteousness preserves the system. They are dramatic actions that realise the social role the church has provided establishing its systems further.

These behavioural patterns are not simply a means of preserving the churches role as guardian of social roles but they are also important for our self-expression and identity as members. The sociologist Irving Goffman discussed this in his work The Presentation of self in everyday life. Goffman said that we  need dramatic realisation as a way of self expressing our self. As Goffman describes it:

“the individual typically infuses his activity with signs which dramatically highlight and portray confirmatory facts that might otherwise remain unapparent or obscure.” (Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Every-day Life, p37)

The church social structure looks at outward acts to assess the intangible principle of inner righteousness. This is why we focus on measurable acts like scripture reading and attending meetings. The more rigid and measurable the activity is the more effective it is at establishing our church identity and our perceived righteousness. The set of social roles have their benefits in that following a prescribed pattern and script reduces the cognitive load that we as individuals have.  It allows us the liberty of not having to ponder each reaction whenever we confront a new situation. It makes life easier if you have a prefabricated set of answers to the various situations that you will encounter through life.

The church struggles with intellectuals, critics, feminists, homosexuals and single members because they do not fit into these ready made social roles. If characters in a play started to act out of character and change the lines they spoke it would cause the play to descend into chaos. In a church setting, this is even more difficult as the social roles are often perceived as revealed prototypes from God, the fundamental constitution of heaven; to disrupt and not conform is a threat to God’s order itself.  This veneer of divinity that is woven through the social roles that the church provides comes to its dramatic height in the temple. Indeed the plan of salvation has been described as a cosmic drama that each plays its role, even Christ himself is conforming to a social role given to him by God, in Cleon Skousen’s famous talk the meaning of the atonement.We are all actors taking up the parts as part of the great drama of the plan of salvation.

Becoming or Bad Faith?

The fact that the church provides us with prefabricated social roles can be seen as a good or bad thing. A cynical view of the social roles given to us by the church and conforming entirely to them is that it is living someone else’s life and that it is inauthentic. A great critic of this is the existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre who called this bad faith which is the habit that people have of deceiving themselves into thinking that they do not have the freedom to make choices for fear of the potential consequences of making a choice outside of the social role. As a result of this fear they conform entirely to social roles. An example Sartre cites to demonstrate this is of a a café waiter, whose movements and conversation are a little too “waiter-esque.” His voice oozes with an eagerness to please; he carries food rigidly and ostentatiously. His exaggerated behaviour illustrates that he is play-acting as a waiter, as an object in the world: an automaton whose essence is to be a waiter. But that he is obviously acting belies that he is aware that he is not (merely) a waiter, but is rather consciously deceiving himself. He is pretending to us and to himself that he is a waiter. For Mormons perhaps bad faith is seen in those who are seen to be too Mormon, those who have a desire to appear righteous and who go out of their way to demonstrate how Mormon they are, kowtowing to impress the bishop and stake president in order to gain acceptance, but in performing a role they deceive themselves.  They lose their own identity in this shallow performance of righteousness. In contrast Sartre suggest that to live in good faith means to strive for authenticity and to continually be aware of the tendency to slip into bad faith.

A less cynical view suggests that we all have to act and pretend in order to become ourselves. That since we are all here to become like God that we need to emulate the social scripts given to us by God in order to become like God. Boyd K. Packer seems to suggest this when he suggests that in bearing a testimony you gain a testimony.

It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would it not be dishonest?”

Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it.

There is certainly psychological support to suggest that adopting a social script and pretending to follow it has benefits. For instance the great surrealist artist Salvador Dali was described as morbidly shy. He had a great fear of blushing and his shame about being ashamed drove him into solitude. It was not until his uncle gave him the advice to become an actor in his relations with the people around him. Dali was told to pretend that he was an extrovert with everyone including closest companions. He went through the motions of being an extrovert.  He pretended and acted out a social script and as a result eventually, he became celebrated as the most extroverted, fearless, uninhibited and gregarious personalities of his time. He became what he pretended to be. Maybe the church’s scripted social roles and scripts help us to become better people. Maybe in performing the role of God’s chosen church members we in time will become God’s chosen people.

Yet I remain sceptical. Part of me wonders if the social roles the church has constructed are just self-aggrandising scripts to make us feel special, God’s chosen people. Our youth are not just teenagers, but valiant members of God’s army. Such biased social roles may boost our self-esteem and protect us from the cruel reality of life for a time, but do they really build character and strength?  Would God really create a social theatre that so intolerant of social roles outside of the normal?  Would God create social roles that make me feel special at the expense of making the rest of humanity not special? I suspect not, which makes the church’s roles mere social constructions like any other.


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28 Responses to Social Roles and The Theatre of Mormonism

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 9, 2012 at 4:22 PM

    I do not thInk that social roles have to be exclusive or hostile to outsiders. You can love your wife without meaning you are demeaning others.

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  2. hawkgrrrl on August 9, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    I agree with Stephen’s point that we play social roles in all social situations: the boss, the daughter, the mother, the teacher. Those roles don’t necessarily make us inauthentic.

    But there are people who wear their Mormonism in a very outward display, who deliberately use Mormon phrasing or display their allegiance in front of the bishop or stake president because they seek approval. I would say most every ward has one or two of these folks, but it’s not the norm to be fake like that. It’s just like every workplace having a few who suck up.

    But there is something to the idea of a Mormon persona. I think as Mormons we “get” Mitt Romney more than others do. We hear some of the things he said in Israel, and we understand where he got that even if we know it’s not good diplomacy. To us he seems less eccentric.

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  3. Jake on August 9, 2012 at 5:09 PM

    I agree Stephen that social roles don’t have to be exclusive. Such as the husband wife roles but I think Mormon social roles by their nature have a sense of exclusivity.

    I think I would disagree that it’s not the norm though. Yes every ward has super Mormons who are out to try and impress the bishop and stake president. But I think the three hour block is a great performance of these roles for most people who are Mormon. I mean even I who during the week is heretical and critical conforms to the Mormon social role during the three hour block. I wear the uniform conform mostly to the script. Which essentially means that we all have a split identity. Church meetings is a great theatre for people to perform their righteousness through conforming to social roles. I think Facebook is also used as part of this performance. People care more about appearing holy then actually being righteous.

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  4. hawkgrrrl on August 9, 2012 at 5:57 PM

    “I wear the uniform conform mostly to the script” Well, we do this at work, too, but it’s just because it makes it easier to do our jobs. That doesn’t mean we aren’t being ourselves, though. I think we are more Mormon than we think. And less of our Mormonism is an act than we think. At least I believe that’s true. For example, I think Mormons tend to be upbeat and smile a lot. Which came first? Being upbeat and smiling a lot or being Mormon? But then we are like that outside of church also.

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  5. prometheus on August 9, 2012 at 9:19 PM

    A few thoughts on this topic.

    First, I find it interesting that Jesus essentially stomped on almost every social role that existed in his time. Associating with unmarried women in public? Speaking with Samaritans? Touching lepers? Gathering food on the Sabbath? Check, check, and check. He refused to be bound by those social roles, which I find an interesting companion thought to the commandment to follow him.

    Second, roles might ease the cognitive load, but they can very easily turn into prisons. Kids who have learning difficulties would often rather be known as bad than stupid, and after a few years, they are trapped in a role that they can’t set aside without losing face. And, as has been noted, you can sometimes become what you pretend to be, which is also of concern when the role that one ends up with is negative.

    Finally, social roles are not always attained by choice. Sometimes we find ourselves filling a role because other people demand it of us. One sees this in high school all the time – the popular kid chooses a target to become the loser, the social role is enforced and reinforced because we live in a culture permeated with the need for foils – the popular kid needs an unpopular counterpart, a hero needs a nemesis, and so on.

    I suppose I would add one more thought – every role is just that: a role, a mask, a lie we perform to hide our authentic self from the community. How can we ever hope to become a Zion people if we are forever hiding from each other?

    Thought provoking post!

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  6. Anon for This on August 9, 2012 at 10:11 PM

    The “Theatre of Mormonism”! Love that – I feel that it’s often a pretty accurate description.
    “To allow an alternate set of roles outside of those prescribed by the church undermines its authority as a system.”
    Most definitely! I think that’s what makes it uncomfortable for many members and thus creates the cycle of the Church getting members to toe the line with their system.

    As you mention authenticity, I often feel that it is a very inauthentic experience in the Church, at least for me, and I think this causes a lot of unhappiness for me.

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  7. Mike S on August 10, 2012 at 12:03 AM

    This is a great post.

    This is often how I feel about the Church. There are roles to fill and costumes to wear. Real thoughts are suppressed in lieu of correlated answers. Not always, but our church meetings become a duty to get through as opposed to something uplifting.

    My first thought when reading this was much like what prometheus said above. In mortality, Christ spent most of His time dismantling the hedges that the Jews had erected over time around the law. He cut tot he essence. And just like today, the church leaders of his time fought against this as threatening their power. In return, they seemed to interpret the law even more strictly. This is very ironic.

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  8. Bob on August 10, 2012 at 12:56 AM

    Let’s not forget the voices: Sing-Sing for GAs.___’Primary’ for the Sisters.

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  9. Bob on August 10, 2012 at 2:56 AM


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  10. Andrew S on August 10, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    Great post! I regret that I didn’t see it yesterday!

    There’s a lot of stuff I want to address (you put in Sartre! Yessss), but I’ll address this for now:

    There is certainly psychological support to suggest that adopting a social script and pretending to follow it has benefits. For instance the great surrealist artist Salvador Dali was described as morbidly shy. He had a great fear of blushing and his shame about being ashamed drove him into solitude. It was not until his uncle gave him the advice to become an actor in his relations with the people around him. Dali was told to pretend that he was an extrovert with everyone including closest companions. He went through the motions of being an extrovert. He pretended and acted out a social script and as a result eventually, he became celebrated as the most extroverted, fearless, uninhibited and gregarious personalities of his time.

    Here’s one thing that I see here…now, I can’t be for sure in this case, but I would just say that in general, people mix up term all the time. I think that “extrovert” matches against “introvert”…From knowing that one is “shy,” one doesn’t necessarily know whether one is an extrovert OR an introvert — in fact, I would imagine that shyness more impacts extroverts, because that is a case where they internally are recharged by social contact, but, for whatever reason, they fear going out into certain social situations. The shy introvert doesn’t have as much of a problem, because he or she doesn’t recharge from social situations to begin with.

    The reason I put this up is to point out that “extrovert” and “introvert” are personality types. They are internal states. You can’t “pretend” to be extroverted.

    What you can pretend to do is put on an outside front. You can pretend to be *outgoing* (because there are actions associated with being outgoing). And what may happen over time is that as you go through the actions to become outgoing, you may become quite proficient at it. But in general, it won’t be so easy to change your internal orientation — are you recharged by or drained by too much social contact?

    So, for example, I find myself to be an introvert. But I think I can be very *outgoing*. I think I can be a relatively competent public speaker, and that generally involves having to talk to people.

    I am very aware that I’m putting on a mask in most situations. And the mask is heavy. It’s draining. At the end of the day, I think, “I would rather go home alone, and unwind,” and never “I would rather go to a party/social gathering/event/pub/whatever and unwind.” To me, the party/social gathering/event/pub is a draining situation, whereas being alone is energizing.

    The line you have about his father encouraging Dali to be an actor in his social relationships seems very relevant to me: it’s an act. I can be a good actor or a bad actor, but at what point does the actor “become” *me*?

    Without jumping into a can of worms, think about the gay folks who get into mixed orientation marriages. Though they can “present” in a “heterosexual lifestyle” (p.s., I think that using the term “lifestyle” is a dog whistle, but I’ll use it just this once)…do that lifestyle ever “become” them?

    Well, if you read most recent accounts (Josh Weed, Joshua Johanson, Ty Mansfield, etc.,) there is more of an understanding that the lifestyle never becomes them. These are men who identify as same-sex attracted/homosexual/whatever, but recognize that the act is more important than the attractions.

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  11. Dave on August 10, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Andrew, I think you’d enjoy the book discussed in the linked post — all about social roles, etc.

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  12. ji on August 10, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    In my ward’s testimony meeting last Sunday, I didn’t see any uniforms or masks or false fronts or theater — I saw honest and heart-felt testimonies that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and our Redeemer, shared among friends. I saw no showmanship or artistry or sophistry, just honesty and genuine faith.

    Fools will mock, I suppose, and perhaps some of the fools are among us, but there is great beauty in people exercising their faith. There is great beauty in seeing the power of Godliness made manifest to us in this mortal life. May God bless all of those who try to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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  13. prometheus on August 10, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    “…there is great beauty in people exercising their faith.”

    I agree with this, ji. I just don’t see it as often as I should. Perhaps you live in a good ward where people are more genuine and honest with each other, but not all wards are created equal.

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  14. ji on August 10, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    The Lord asks us to follow him, to take his yoke upon ourselves, to change ourselves (the natural man or woman) into something different (the holy and sanctified man or woman). And yes, our God does call us to be special, a peculiar people. Yes, knowing that I am a son of God, a bearer of his holy priesthood, the husband to a woman to whom I am sealed by the power of that priesthood, a father in Israel, yes, all of this does contribute to my strength and character. And all of this is good.

    Is it for my self-esteem? No. Can it meaningfully contribute to my self-esteem? Yes. All of this is good.

    Yes, my son is a valiant member of God’s army.

    Prometheus (no. 13) — I live far away from the center place, and yes, I live in a good ward with good people. But I would hope that wards near the center place are also good wards with good people. But perhaps in places like that, the social dimension of Church activity may seem to overwhelm the spiritual dimension. Where I live, everyone will admit that we live in the world and the ward is a spiritual safe place.

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  15. prometheus on August 10, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    So, my questions for you, ji, is this: what happens when my definition of a holy person is different from yours?

    And fwiw, I live nowhere near the center of Mormonism, but I think there is something to the idea that when our neighbors and coworkers are also our fellow church goers, the social roles and masks are harder to take off.

    When your doctor is also your bishop, it is easy to conflate the two roles. When the neighbor with the big loud truck is your EQ president, the personality stereotype can be hard to shake off.

    I also think that to a certain extent, our concepts of privacy run into this whole idea: I don’t share all of my innermost thoughts with anyone. I don’t imagine anyone would really be that interested in the stream of my consciousness, so to some extent, there is a role always being played – the level of disclosure that I am willing to entertain. Also, when out in public, I bring my A-game rather than grumpily slop around in my PJs, even when I feel like doing just that.

    Is there a necessary level of role-playing, I wonder?

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  16. ji on August 10, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    Prometheus (no. 15) — Regarding holiness, my only concern is myself. I really don’t worry about the holiness of my neighbor. if I ever do visit your ward, and wear a dark suit and white shirt, and offer a testimony, of Jesus Christ as my Savior, I hope you’ll accept it as honest rather than as an act.

    I agree that having a physician or police officer or school teacher who is also a Church member could add complications to the relatinship. In a way, I’ve always been glad that the only time I see another member is at Church on Sunday (or Wednesday night).

    There’s nothing wrong with a little role playing — it’s not dishonest, it’s just social grease.

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  17. prometheus on August 10, 2012 at 8:51 PM

    I’ll take you however you look, ji, even if you wear flip flops and cutoffs! :D

    Interesting to note that on BCC there was a post recently about the LDS church getting official recognition in Italy, and a side effect of that is the banning of legal / political professionals from having ecclesiastical authority, for exactly the reasons we have mentioned.

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  18. Jake on August 11, 2012 at 2:50 AM

    There is a real difficulty in trying to distinguish what is really us and what is a mask that we are wearing. Perhaps, Hawkgrrl, I am prone to project my own cynicism in my use of masks onto others and generally people are, as you suggest, more authentic then I give them credit.

    Prometheus, Thats interesting to view Jesus as a dismantler of social roles. I like that as a thought. Thats certainly a view of Jesus that I can get on board with. As I think its good to at least question our masks and roles we play as too often social roles do become prisons in which we are trapped. The danger of this can be seen in the example of Nicholas Cage who is trapped in acting the same role in every film. We end up being living other peoples lives rather then our own. Arguably, that is what God wants us to do though – to sacrifice our will and the roles we would like in order to accept his will and roles.

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  19. Jake on August 11, 2012 at 3:48 AM

    Andrew S,

    That is a really good point about internal states and behaviour. Its at this point that the assumptions that you make about the mind and body start to really impact upon the answers you will get.

    For instance a Cartesian Dualist, or someone who accepts that the mind and body are two different things – as most Mormons tend to believe. Then they will say that its the internal mental state is what is important and the internal mental state is what the person really is, despite what their actions may say. So a homosexual person in a traditional marriage is acting as a heterosexual but his internal state is homosexual so he is really homosexual but acting as a heterosexual.

    Physicalists such as Gilbert Ryle, for instance. Would reject such a distinction. They would say that the only thing we can observe is behaviour and to make a distinction between mental acts and physical acts is mistaken. So the action is the only criteria for judgement, and the homosexual who acts as a heterosexual is really heterosexual because they behave in that way and there is no distinction between the physical behaviour and the mental states. The mind according to them does not exist, but is simply what we describe brain activity as. Everything collapses to physical action.

    In the case of the extrovert introvert scenario. If someone is behaving in an outgoing manner then they are being an extrovert. I guess it also depends on how stable and static we think we are as individuals. If we think that who we are changes constantly then we can simply say that who we are changes its not a case of pretending or acting, but that we are simply being a different person. On the other hand if, as most of us do like to think we are fairly consistent, then we start having to introduce concepts like acting, pretending in order to maintain a consistent self.

    Personally, I tend to think that we are constantly changing. The key point is the motives for why we are behaving in certain ways and why we change who we are. If I behave as an extrovert but my motives for it are dubious then its a bad act, ie. maybe to manipulate others, if, in contrast, its a good motive then its not in bad faith. So I would say we become when we start to behave in a certain way.

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  20. Andrew S on August 11, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    re 19,


    Your response is interesting for several reasons.

    Firstly, I don’t think most Mormons would have the position you would assert from cartesian dualists (then again, I don’t think Mormons are necessarily dualists?)

    I think your division between dualism and forms of monism like physicalism is off though. So, the issue that you’re trying to address, which is something about the mind-body problem…a physicalist wouldn’t say “the action is the only criteria for judgment.” Rather, they would say that mental acts are reducible to physical properties (e.g., your mental states/acts are caused by brain chemistry, neurology, and so on.)

    In that case, no, the homosexual who acts like a heterosexual isn’t “really” heterosexual. We can see from brain activity that the same areas of the brain that correspond to arousal will not be active for the gay person when they are in a heterosexual relationship as would be active if they were in a gay relationship (or would be active for a straight person in a straight relationship).

    You highlight this when you say: The mind according to them does not exist, but is simply what we describe brain activity as I just want to point out that that is CONSIDERABLY different than “Everything collapses to physical action,” which you say immediately after.

    So, we can carry this on to introvert/extrovert. Even if you don’t believe in mental states, we can say that extrovert isn’t “someone behaving in an outgoing manner.” Rather, to be an extrovert means that your brain releases dopamine (or other reward system neurotransmitters) in response to social activity — regardless of if you ever engage in an outgoing manner or not. For an introvert, that wouldn’t happen as much, and we would see brain reward activity for more solitary activities — again, regardless of how often the individual actually engages in that behavior.

    Or, let’s put it another way. Say I have a “sweet tooth.” That simply means that my brain rewards me more for having sweets than for other kinds of food. If I never eat sweets (I’m on some sort of diet), that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sweet tooth.

    On the point of change: you have to be clear what is being changed. Brain chemistry is one thing; actions are another. The entire discussion of “acting” supposes that while we can change our actions quite fluidly, our brain chemistry is considerably less fluid (even if it is up to change.)

    So, your “motives” for being outgoing aren’t what determines it. Rather, it’s about whether you actually are energized (read: whether your brain chemistry is geared to reward you) for engaging socially that makes you extroverted or not.

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  21. Nate on August 12, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Very interesting discussion Jake. At AA they say, “fake it till you make it.” But then they also say, “I’m an alcoholic” even when they’ve been sober for years.

    I think it’s worth noting the role that free-will plays in this debate. I believe that a lot of the actions we take within pre-determined social roles are the result, not of free-will, but of environmental and biological conditioning.

    While free-will does exist, it only exists alongside many other subconscious forces that drive us to act in certain ways.

    There is nothing special about a heterosexual, or a homosexual, acting upon his or her sexual proclivities. That much was ordained by mother nature, instinctually, with no decisions or choice in the matter.

    But there is something special about a homosexual, who consciously acts against instinctual nature. This says something about his eternal nature, his values, is spiritual strength. (However, it is also true that he or she may simply be pushed about by cultural imprinting, not by any deliberate choice. There is not much virtue in that.)

    The Book of Mormon says we are creatures that are made to act, and be acted upon. It’s fine to get ourselves into “good habits,” but this is still to be acted upon by conditioning and instinct. True power is the ability to act, not be acted upon.

    I think in reference to your post, there are those who naturally fit into LDS molds, and those who naturally do not. Some are natural conformists, and others are natural rebels.

    To a born conformist, there is nothing special about conforming, and to a born rebel, there is nothing special about their rebellion. They are just swimming downstream.

    But for a conformist to rebel, or a rebel to conform, that is to truly act, and not be acted upon.

    I think it’s similar to what Jesus said, that there is no virtue in giving or loving people who love you back. There is only virtue in loving your enemies.

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  22. prometheus on August 12, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    “But for a conformist to rebel, or a rebel to conform, that is to truly act, and not be acted upon.”

    I like that thought. It is true, as a born rebel, rebellion has always been easy, conformity not so much. Of course, I justify myself by ascribing moral virtue to rebellion, but that is another matter entirely….. :)

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  23. Jake on August 17, 2012 at 6:09 AM


    I was not particularly articulate in fleshing out the distinction. I do think that mormons are bound to dualism though with the spirit and body divide essentially making it theologically difficult to take any other position.

    What I found very interesting is that you seem to suggest that it is about biochemical states in the brain that really indicate who we are. So in an extrovert they have a certain neurological response to social situations. Implicit in this is the fact that unless we have a brain scan and look at our own neurological reactions we can never really know ourselves. We may behave in a certain way, but to know who we are it requires looking at our neurological reaction. I like that idea.


    “This says something about his eternal nature, his values, is spiritual strength. (However, it is also true that he or she may simply be pushed about by cultural imprinting, not by any deliberate choice. There is not much virtue in that.)”

    This assumes that there is something about our nature that is eternal. I would question if there is any part of my nature that has been stable enough for it to be considered eternal.

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  24. Andrew S. on August 17, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    re 23


    On the dualism point, I think that Mormons — more so than other Christians, at the very least — are less beholden to dualism. After all, in Mormon theology, spirit and matter are the same stuff…spirit is just “matter more fine or pure.”

    And I mean, look at the Mormon position on embodiment to relate body and spirit together. Bodies are essential to our development in Mormonism, not a husk that we are supposed to temporarily live in, but shake off.

    Anyway, as to biochemical states and “who we are,” I’m talking specifically about extroversion and introversion. If you want different terms, then maybe those can be defined in different ways (e.g., “outgoing” might be defined in behavioral terms…so to say someone is outgoing is to refer to their behavior), but that’s not how things work for extrovert and introvert.

    The brain scan is not necessary…now, this gets into a whole different discussion (about whether qualia even exist…and that’s also on the dualism topic), but what’s determinative how an individual actually feels. So while YOU can know YOURself (because you FEEL what you FEEL), and I can know MYself, I can’t know YOU, and you can’t know me, because we can’t see each others qualia.

    The funnny thing (and here is the “hard problem in consciousness” for philosophers, scientists, etc.,) is that you can’t solve this by looking at neuroscience…

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  25. Jake on August 17, 2012 at 8:12 AM


    I forget the all is matter point. Although that is still dualistic but in materialistic terms. You still have the same problems of dualism but just a subtle change in the terminology.

    okay, so I am trying to follow this. So biochemical states. A person is very sociable and it triggers a certain biochemical state. How this state is interpreted and understood is not static though. Like tastes they change – what at first feels strange can become loved and enjoyed. So there is nothing determinative about biochemical states and how we know ourselves. As in one instance the same state may be uncomfortable in another enjoyable.

    So the problem of understanding ourselves through how it feels is just as problematic because what we feel and how we understand and experience this feeling are not static.

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  26. Andrew S. on August 17, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    The all-is-matter point is precisely the opposite of a dualistic point. When you say, “In materialistic terms,” you concede that we can explain things in materialistic terms — a dualist would never concede that, because s/he would say there are two kinds of things (material and spirit, or some other such DUAL set up).

    For Mormons, that is not the case.

    You say that we still have the same problems of dualism but a subtle change in the terminology, but I am saying that these aren’t “subtle changes”…maybe there’s a different kind of dualism to which you would like to refer, but Mormonism simply doesn’t align with the main ones I’m thinking of.

    So biochemical states. A person is very sociable and it triggers a certain biochemical state. How this state is interpreted and understood is not static though. Like tastes they change – what at first feels strange can become loved and enjoyed. So there is nothing determinative about biochemical states and how we know ourselves. As in one instance the same state may be uncomfortable in another enjoyable.

    This gets back to the point about how static or dynamic personalities, etc., are. I would say that much of personality is less like a change and tastes and more like sexual orientation — there may be some lifetime fluidity, but it’s not as fluid as food tastes in most cases.

    Nevertheless, speaking of how “determinative” biochemical states are — you neglect the possibility that biochemical states can change over time, but that this change isn’t a consciously chosen change. In this way, biochemical states can still be determinative, but what they determine can change over time. (I don’t really grasp your understanding of biochemical states though…so a lot of what you’re writing here doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.)

    So the problem of understanding ourselves through how it feels is just as problematic because what we feel and how we understand and experience this feeling are not static.

    Our feelings change…this doesn’t mean that we can’t understand ourselves through our feelings. It just means that we have to understand that feelings change. I don’t see the problem…

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  27. Jake on August 17, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    But thats the point Mormons do invoke a dual way of explaining things and not in materialist ways. There is the materialistic mortal way and then their is a higher spiritual way. They still speak in dualist terms regarding the body and spirit, as if they are two separate domains. Even if they call the spiritual ‘more refined matter’ the way they actually speak about it is as if it was a separate distinct substance. So yes, you could say they collapse the distinction in theory with both being matter but they don’t speak about the spirit as being the same as the body.

    The basic problem you have is how does this more refined spiritual matter of the spirit interact with the more vulgar physical matter of the body? Especially since we can’t observe it.

    In respect to personality I am inclined to think we are more fluid and change significantly over time. But, maybe I just want that to be true.

    Admittedly, I know very little about biochemical states. So what I was saying only made a little sense to me.

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  28. Andrew S on August 17, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    re 27


    I don’t think this even captures Mormonism well. It’s not that there is a materialistic mortal way and a higher spiritual way, because immortality/eternal life is ALSO materialistic — we take our bodies with us when we are resurrected. It does not make sense in Mormonism to split “material” and “spiritual” because matter is important to spirituality in Mormonism.

    Additionally, spirituality REQUIRES bodies. The entire point of the plan of salvation is that we needed BODIES to exercise agency.

    I think you might say that Mormons make a distinction between the natural man and the righteous man, BUT these differences do NOT fall along “material” vs. “spiritual” lines as they might in other Christian traditions. The body is NOT seen as a bad thing in Mormonism, or as a thing to be overcome, or as the source of our weakness.

    So, when you ask, “how does this more refined spiritual matter of the spirit interact with the more vulgar physical matter of the body,” you’re still trying to make a distinction that doesn’t even EXIST in Mormonism. It’s not that one separate thing in Mormonism interacts with another separate thing — rather, the two already are one and the same.

    it’s like asking, “how do subatomic particles of quarks, electrons, and protons interact with vulgar, super-atomic particles that make up elements, molecules, compounds?” The question doesn’t make sense, because the larger parts are MADE UP OF the smaller parts.

    In the same way, the larger aspects of matter are all made up of the “more fine and more pure” intelligences of Mormonism. That Mormonism isn’t as empirical as quantum physics is (and quantum physics ain’t all that empirical for us either, yet) is not a problem.

    We don’t need to focus on biochemical states…all I’m trying to say is that regardless of what you feel about choice with actions, things like “extrovert” or “introvert” are not tied to actions, but tied to something less consciously chosen.

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