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Could I be a “Practical Mormon Atheist”?

March 17, 2013

chanson’s latest Sunday in Outer Blogness (which y’all should already be reading every week, of course!) showed me a post I had not seen — Aaron Shafovaloff’s Creed of Practical Mormon Atheism at Mormon Coffee. “Practical Mormon Atheism” is, as chanson summarizes, a reaction to John Dehlin’s curious path within, without, and around Mormonism via things like Mormonism and the “uncorrelated Mormon” movement. chanson answered with her thoughts about the 10 creed principles and sought for others’ answers, and I thought I’d post mine…but it quickly became too long for a mere comment. In this post, I’ll answer with my own thoughts about the items, and my thoughts as to whether the item really actually describes uncorrelated, new order, liberal, or otherwise non-traditionally believing (yet-still-identifying) Mormonism. I understand that these groups are many and diverse, so maybe Aaron is talking about different groups completely.

Per Aaron:

The grand council of atheist Mormon bishops have met and codified the Creed of Practical Mormon Atheism, a list of things that both atheists and Mormons can largely affirm together:

  1. Even if Mormonism is false, it is still worth believing and ought not be refuted.
  2. Faith is ultimately irrational.
  3. Even if you don’t believe in God, you should still stay on the membership rolls and consider yourself a Mormon.
  4. If the LDS Church isn’t true, there is no God.
  5. How you live your life is more important than what you believe.
  6. I can’t believe in a God who demands worship.
  7. It doesn’t matter if it’s true. What matters is whether it is official.
  8. I proudly mentally disassociate from the content and implications of my belief system.
  9. I know the Church is true. I have no idea what that means.
  10. There was a conspiracy to fundamentally corrupt the Bible. It is untrustworthy and we look elsewhere for truth.
  11. Apart from Mormonism, I have no good reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
  12. The existence of my personhood is not owing to any god.
  13. Everything is matter and nothing is immaterial.
  14. There is no ultimate personal being who is the ground of all other being.
  15. There is no first cause.
  16. There are impersonal eternal laws that govern everything.

(OK, the numbers are per chanson — Aaron’s post was just bulleted.)

As for my answers…

1) I do not agree with this one, but with many caveats. In the first part, what is the aspect of “Mormonism” that is “false,” and what is the aspect of Mormonism that “is still worth believing and ought not be refuted”?

I think that Aaron is conflating different elements of Mormonism in this statement and thus fails to capture the actual nuance (if you agree with it) or gymnastics (if you don’t) that is happening. I’ll give two options.

  • a) For someone who would agree with this statement in spirit, the first part “Even if Mormonism is false” would refer to a statement about the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the literalistic translation accuracy of something like the Book of Abraham. The “it is worth believing,” in contrast, would refer to the life advice of the church. (I guess this is kinda what Aaron is getting at by calling it “Practical Mormon Atheism”.
  • b) Perhaps the statement should actually be read: “Even if Mormonism is false, it is still worth practicing/engaging and ought not be refuted.”

…still, in both reformulations, the last part “ought not be refuted” is problematic. If you look at most of the liberal/unorthodox/uncorrelated Mormon groups, you might see that they want to be more subtle or diplomatic about the process — or, for example, they want to “change from within” so they need to build and maintain the legitimacy to do that — but you aren’t going to see uncritical acceptance in most cases. That should be a very noticeable (and frustrating) part for believing members and former members alike — the uncorrelated Mormon still believes in or practices Mormonism…but their conception of what should be believed or practiced is idiosyncratic. I think I’ll get to this point later on as well.

2) I agree with this, but with caveats. Define “faith”. I think people use faith in multiple ways, confusing the definitions as is appropriate for their argument. I also think subjectivity (and other things that might seem outside the bounds of “pure rationality”) aren’t necessarily things to be eschewed or escaped.

3) I think this needs to be a personal evaluation. Personally, I find “staying on the membership rolls” to be of no value either way. I guess some people might say it’s comparable to “being on the membership rolls of the KKK” (if you are trying to distance yourself from that, you should probably be interested in delisting), but I don’t see things that way. In Mormonism, I can think of several reasons might want to stay on the rolls.

I understand people can go through a crucible from leaving the church, and that some folks might prize that experience (heck, even Mormons prize the experience of pioneers and converts who left what they had to join the church — often at great cost)…but to me, I don’t think these sacrifices are necessarily necessary. (wow, I need to come up with a different way of phrasing that.)

…and for more nuance — I think that whether one is on the membership rolls is a separate question from whether one considers him or herself Mormon.

4) First, I’ll just point out that I like chanson’s answer here:

…both are true, but if there’s a logical connection, it goes the other way

However, I’ll point out that I get what Aaron is trying to go for here, chuckle at it, and say that I disagree with this creed as it is formulated. However, I will say that theists need to make the case for whatever deities they propose. If there only work (especially in “witnessing” to Mormons) is to try to show the inadequacy of Mormonism (or the unbiblicality of Mormonism), then they are going to fail hard in getting Mormons to see traditional Christianity as a viable option post-Mormonism.

I’ll also say that for better or for worse, Mormonism does a relatively good job at giving members the impression that other Christian denominations are inadequate. I mean, if a Calvinist wanted to reach out to a Mormon, he would have to jump over the hurdle that the Mormon likely believes the God of Calvinism to be even worse than the Satan of Mormonism. Mormon Satan at the very least had an unlimited “atonement.” Five-point Calvinist God can’t even seem to manage that.

But in general, the toolkit developed to tear Mormonism apart is also formidable against other religions or denominations. That’s not to say that all religions fall if Mormonism falls, but theists have to come up with more compelling approaches if they want to get anywhere.

5) Yes. I understand why some folks might think otherwise, but the idea that what you believe is better than how you live is pretty baffling to me.

6) I chuckle at this one…I get that what Aaron is trying to get at here is that even when the uncorrelated Mormon proposes a god that he/she could believe in, then usually, that God has little to no demands on people — or at least, not any that would really challenge the individual’s own viewpoint.

That being said, for me, I would not agree with it. I just haven’t found such reasons to believe yet, but don’t say it’s not possible.

7) My response here is similar to chanson’s “WTF???”, but I would say that this item really strikes me as being off when describing uncorrelated Mormons. One thing I would say is critical  to many uncorrelated Mormons’ engagements with the church in a post-literal belief period is their deconstruction of “officiality.” You simply cannot have some of these other creed statements if this doesn’t happen. (What does it mean to identify as a “Mormon”? If one goes by “official,” then the “practical Mormon atheist” simply couldn’t identify as Mormon. But the PMA can continue to identify as a Mormon precisely because he separates Mormon identity from the institution.)

In fact, emphasizing what is “official” is really something more that TBMS and TB(ex)Ms do. This leader said X, so X is authoritative. For one side, that means one lives by X. For the other side, if X is morally repugnant, then X is the deal breaker. But for the uncorrelated Mormon, one simply disagrees with or de-emphasizes what the leader said and X, and lives around it.

8) I’ll paste in chanson’s response for this one too:

Christian: “I proudly make up anything at all about people I disagree with, no matter how obviously unwarranted”

9) No to the first part, yes to the second. As you might have guessed from my answer to question (1) and question (7), I’m pretty big into the deconstruction. Deconstructing what it means for the “church to be true” is something anyone can doing with just enough catalyst. Still, for me, for all the values of “true” that I feel comfortable is using, I can’t say I believe that to be the case.

10) chanson stated it better than I could:

second half yes, first half not necessary,

11) On a roll with agreeing with chanson’s phrasing here:

yes, except for that initial bit,

But as a critique of uncorrelated Mormonism, I think that this fits the same analysis of (5) [EDIT: this should point to 6, not 5].

12) I don’t have personally compelling reasons to believe otherwise.

13) Who knows?

14) Who knows, but I don’t have personally compelling reasons to believe otherwise.

15) Who knows?

16) Depends on what you’re referring to by laws.

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22 Comments
  1. Debra permalink

    When I had heard to bring your friends to sacrament and hear the testimonies; I was thinking that would run anyone off. You have mothers whispering in their childrens ears what to say about what they know. Everyone immediately that in my peer group thinks cult brainwashing. Does any other churches do that? I’ve went to many in my childhood. With every possible neighbor and we moved frequently. My mom was abusive and I wanted God to do something about it. Also, you can’t bring your friends in Relief Society either because they know all truth and you friend knows dip sh-t. They make comments about how sorry they feel about the world not having the spirit. I tell them that I have had the spirit all my life directing me and I wasn’t a member until 15. I know he answered my prayers. So, does everyone else in the world. I get offended and I am a Mormon. They call it personal revelation. Non members thinks revelation is what prophets receives for masses. Answers to prayers is their personal revelations. So, yes they do all of everyone that prays believes in personal revelation. What other reason do they pray! Oh thanking God for answering their prayers. It bothers me they have to compare themselves to other religions to come on top. That is the reaction to people that are trying to convince themselves so they will not have insecurity creep up on them. I don’t go to church anymore. I can’t really do it because of immunity issues and there is always plenty of kids. I don’t know why no one addresses it or sees it is wrong and turns new converts and investigators off. They are losing members and their church is no longer growing.

  2. Debra permalink

    has there ever been any middle eastern (Jews and Arabs have same dna) found during the period of the book of mormon.? What puzzles me is I married a man of Muslim background. He was an atheist but he was one of the most Christ like people I know. Anyway out of interest I studied the religion and went to some ceremonies like marriage. It blew my mind. The Lehi Tree of Life is in the beginning of the Quran. They said it came from a Prophet in the desert of the middle east. The Mormons claim it was Lehi and the Muslims said his name was Hud. They believe their marriages are eternal with their type marriages ceremonies only and they make covenants kneeling with a bench behind them and a mirror in front of them. They believe in different stages of Heaven. I don’t why i bring it up but BYU came out with a book called Mormon Vs Muslim or vice versa explaining the situation with some Arabs explaining same views they were interviewing. Every Musliim I met kept telling me my church is American Muslims. What was pitiful was when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped. They all started staring at me weird comparing our church to Afghanistan. Even though there is no comparison to that extinct; we have some issues of strange alterations coming out of our wordwork with break offs and super egos, too.

  3. Interesting comments, Debra, but I’m trying to figure out how they relate to the post.

    Maybe you could start a blog and write more in depth there?

  4. The idea is interesting, though. There are actually many Jews that do not believe in God but still follow Judaism to some extent as social norms. The same could be done with Mormonism. I don’t know much about the religion (except for what I’ve seen in South Park, which actually made me like it) but if it makes you happy, why not stick to some of its rules, not as a religion, but as a guide?

  5. However, I will say that theists need to make the case for whatever deities they propose. If there only work (especially in “witnessing” to Mormons) is to try to show the inadequacy of Mormonism (or the unbiblicality of Mormonism), then they are going to fail hard in getting Mormons to see traditional Christianity as a viable option post-Mormonism.

    I completely agree with this. A lot of Evangelical Christians seem to believe that if you can only peel away the Joseph Smith part, what you’re naturally left with is Evangelical Christianity. They often don’t get that they have their own set of unique non-evident beliefs that they need to make a case for.

    The most obvious one is laid out in #10 of Aaron’s list. A lot of protestants seem to believe that the Bible is coherent and internally consistent and that the text alone is sufficient to point you to the particular theology of modern American Christianity. But the text is right there, and it shows that these beliefs about it are obviously false. There’s no “conspiracy” needed to tell you that the Bible is untrustworthy — just use your own powers of reading comprehension. It’s amusing (and telling) that Aaron would think that a conspiracy is required.

    (As I recall, I was not taught as a Mormon that the problems with the Bible are due to some intentional conspiracy, but rather that they are the natural result of centuries of humans “playing telephone,” trying to recopy and piece together what manuscripts they had.)

    On this point, I think that many atheists and Mormons would agree that if there exists a God who is trying to communicate with humans, it would make sense for Him to provide some additional direction, instead of imagining that the Bible alone is clear and sufficient.

  6. David,

    Thanks for commenting!

    Indeed, I think that Aaron Shafovaloff (who wrote the list I’m responding to) is addressing people who essentially do want to create a sort of “cultural” dimension to Mormonism as there already is for Judaism. For someone like Aaron, this is problematic, because he sees Mormonism as a religion — but not only that, but being a false religion that prevents people from joining what he believes is authentic Christianity.

    chanson,

    One thing I find interesting about people’s view of the Bible as being self-sufficient is that invariably, these folks won’t even agree with what the Bible is saying (even if they wave this away with something like “in essentials unity…” or whatever)

  7. I find one glaring and illogical point to all this. You can’t be an Atheist and Mormon. You can pretend to be, but in the end without conviction of God the religion condemns you at the least as a wolf in sheeps clothing or a liar of satanic proportions. Are there atheist Baptists for instance? Same concept.

  8. Jettboy,

    I think that you and Aaron are probably closer in thinking than, say, you and John Dehlin (even if your opinion of Mormonism is almost completely the opposite of Aaron’s).

    But yeah, I guess the issue is that not only are there atheist Baptists, but there are atheist Baptist preachers.

    Just like in Mormonism, it seems that more than “the conviction of God,” what often keeps people in is cultural pressure — I mean, for most Mormons, one is probably not at risk of losing his job if he loses faith (although there are some positions even in the church that are at this risk)…but one does have to ask, “Will my spouse seek to divorce me?”, “Will the community shun me?” etc.,

    Because people at the very least perceive that others won’t take their lack of faith very well, people try to stay in. You may call them “wolf in sheeps clothing” or “liar[s] of satanic proportions,” but who inspires them to that?

  9. Andrew, thanks for noticing some of the “tongue-in-cheek” nature of the “creed”. Also, your last comment above “gets it”.

    As for #8, this is the kind of thing I have in mind: When I press the issue of becoming Gods, for example, I have had plenty of Mormons tell me that I shouldn’t make a big deal of it, because they don’t think about it often, and indeed, don’t want to think about it very often. In their mind, evangelicals shouldn’t worry about the Mormon theology of becoming Gods, because Mormons don’t make any effort to let this have an affect on their day-to-day attitude, or the rest of their worldview.

    chanson writes,

    > “A lot of Evangelical Christians seem to believe that if you can only peel away the Joseph Smith part, what you’re naturally left with is Evangelical Christianity.”

    This is something people like me are trying to disabuse everyone of — the notion that Mormonism is just traditional Christianity plus an outer layer. It is rather a fundamentally different worldview, with *radically* and fundamentally different notions of God, reality, gospel, etc. Mormons don’t merely need the outer layer deconstructed, they typically (not always; some Mormons are evanjellyfish!) need a Christian worldview constructed from the ground up.

    Grace and peace.

  10. Woops, I was referring to your second-to-last comment above… you commented while I was writing my comment.

  11. Aaron,

    Thanks for commenting — and especially for clarifying what you meant by your 8th point. Although I had some ideas of what you were trying to get at with that comment (thinking about some things that John Dehlin and others have said), that’s not what I would have guessed…

    But with that clarification, that’s another instance where you’re either not capturing your target demographic or your target is confused. So, who are you really addressing: a) atheists who remain as Mormon for idiosyncratic (but somewhat defined/common/identifiable) reasons or b) believing Mormons who may not necessarily agree with everything that was taught in the past (but which has also not necessarily been excised from the present either)?

    If the former, then evangelicals shouldn’t worry about it because those guys are atheists and don’t actually really believe in those tenets of Mormonism anyway.

    If the latter, this is trickier, but I can see what you’re saying. i mean, when I was growing up, I definitely heard about Mormon theology about becoming Gods. But 1) there are many things that were not taught and that I had to find out later and 2) I hear from other people many things that they were not taught, so it’s not like Mormon doctrine or theology is a consistently taught corpus. You know, “pinning jello to a wall,” etc.,

    This isn’t “proudly mentally disassociating from the content and implications of one’s belief system” (it’s not “proud” because no one is aware of it…the person who says that “becoming Gods” isn’t a big deal to them probably is not lying to you — although I do think there is “lying for the Lord” in some cases) — rather, this is the fact that Mormonism, much to the chagrin of people who want to pin it down to challenge it — doesn’t have an expansive solid belief system that is binding for all members.

    When you say

    Mormons don’t make any effort to let this have an affect on their day-to-day attitude

    I will say that *not* making effort to let something have an effect on a day-to-day attitude is very different than pro-actively making an effort to mentally disassociate something that would/does already have an effect from said effect.

    I guess maybe your criticism should instead be that Mormonism doesn’t have the strict theology of necessary creeds that you want it to have, and that Mormonism — even of the “theistic” variety — already is muchly a “practical” religion — but isn’t that already what the “works righteousness” criticism is for?

    I’m not chanson so I speak for myself here, but:

    This is something people like me are trying to disabuse everyone of — the notion that Mormonism is just traditional Christianity plus an outer layer. It is rather a fundamentally different worldview, with *radically* and fundamentally different notions of God, reality, gospel, etc. Mormons don’t merely need the outer layer deconstructed, they typically (not always; some Mormons are evanjellyfish!) need a Christian worldview constructed from the ground up.

    To at least some extent, I’ll agree with this. To the extent that some (perhaps you, but I haven’t read too much of your stuff, admittedly ;) ) will take this to mean, “Mormonism is not Christianity,” I disagree. (I totally agree that it’s not “traditional Christianity” though, and will also agree on the “fundamentally different worldview,” etc., etc., I just don’t know how much is built into a generic Christianity, as opposed to creedal Christianity, etc.,)

    I also chuckle at the term “evanjellyfish” — that’s the first time I’ve encountered that one and I’ll have to add it to my vocab.

    But I guess I would say: how do you plan on constructing that Christian worldview from the ground up without making the Mormon see that house as being inferior from the getgo? I buy that for some Mormons (e.g., those who really are stressed by all of the “requirements”), a grace-based worldview might seem refreshing, but there are elements of traditional Christianity that Mormons aren’t likely to buy into.

  12. I think you are projecting onto me some simplistic logic (i.e. if someone says they “don’t know”, they are lying, etc.) Do you really think I haven’t taken into account the fact that many Mormons simply have never heard (or don’t remember hearing) about various things? :-)

    I agree that mental disassociation is largely a passive affair. But it is quite willing to be occasionally active when necessary. “The Creed of Practical Mormon Atheism” is really about a set of shared general attitudes. That Mormonism lacks a “strict theology of necessary creeds” cuts far: Mormonism in general doesn’t even require a belief in God. Confess your atheism to a bishop, and you are still encouraged to stay on the rolls and keep participating as a member (not just a guest). The bloggernacle once asked, “What can one minimally believe and still reasonably be called a Mormon?” The essential answer? Nothing.

  13. Aaron,

    I apologize if I come off that way. It just seems to me that some of your creedal statements really miss the mark. Specifically, to say that someone “proudly mentally disassociates” implies a level of consciousness or awareness about the process (e.g., one can only be proud of something that one is conscious or aware of) that I don’t think is the case — I used “lying” analogously because similarly, claims of lying are problematic because lying implies a knowledge that is also usually not the case.

    If you concede “that mental disassociation is largely a passive affair,” then to me, it does not follow that one “proudly” does it. (But I’m still not even sure that people are even passively mentally disassociating…because they never associated.)

    However, to the extent that it might be active, you haven’t clarified what that would look like. Your previous comment doesn’t describe, IMO, an active process.

    “The Creed of Practical Mormon Atheism” is really about a set of shared general attitudes.

    So it’s important to consider whether or not that set of shared general attitudes actually describes attitudes that anyone actually has. And of course, maybe the practical Mormon atheists are people I don’t know (so i’m incorrect in assuming you’re referring to folks like John Dehlin and the kind of folks who listen to Mormon Stories or are on New Order Mormon, etc., [and to be sure, there's difference even between those groups]) I’m just saying that on a few points, it doesn’t seem to capture what I think you’re trying to capture. As of yet, you have not corrected me on the “target” I inferred you were describing.

    That Mormonism lacks a “strict theology of necessary creeds” cuts far:

    Yet this doesn’t appear to be your criticism (at least, not within this list). Your point 8, for example, relies upon at least some theology that people are disassociating from the implications thereof. Whereas lacking a strict theology is a different matter — the implications are murky because the belief system itself is murky. How can one disassociate from something which one was never associated to begin with..?

    Mormonism in general doesn’t even require a belief in God. Confess your atheism to a bishop, and you are still encouraged to stay on the rolls and keep participating as a member (not just a guest).

    But let’s also not be coy. Confess your atheism, and you are not worthy for a temple recommend, and there will also probably be plenty of other spillover effects (callings, etc.,) Your encouragement to keep participating as a member is an encouragement to gain a testimony.

    …would an evangelical Christian approach things differently? Would they say, “OK, get out and never come back?” or would they say, “Continue fellowshipping [and hopefully you'll find God again]?” If it’s the former, color me surprised — that really would be a substantial difference between the two systems that I didn’t know about!

    This emphasis on actions gets to another point, though:

    so, I remember (it happens often enough) the Bloggernacle asking what the minimal amount one could *believe* and be Mormon…but there are also questions on the minimal amount one can *do* and be Mormon…that’s a different answer.

  14. Aaron — my point in my post on MSP was that you are not doing yourself a favor by posting a list that misrepresents the beliefs of people you don’t understand.

    In fact, it’s true that there are a lot of interesting points where exmo atheists, agnostic NOMs, and believing Mormons are more likely to agree with each other than with Evangelical Christians. Are you curious to know what those points are? Well, you’ll get a lot more accurate list by asking people from those groups than you’ll get by guessing and making stuff up.

  15. If someone becomes an atheist at my church, their membership is rescinded, but they are always welcome to attend just like any other non-member. One need not force a dichotomy between “leave and never come back” and “stay on the rolls of a church whose fundamental tenets you disagree with”. But that should already be obvious.

    As for the “proud” disassociation: It concerns matters that Mormons already have heard about, will affirm if pressed, yet will ensure others that they don’t think about very often — as though thinking about them often would be unfitting or unethical or shameful.

    Have fun continuing to pick the list apart. I invite you to argue for the alternatives, that somehow Mormons generally believe that.

    1. Mormonism, if fasle, ought not be “left alone”, but ought to be refuted and engaged and deconstructed.

    2. Faith is rooted in evidence that can be publicly scrutinized.

    3. Those who turn atheist can keep attending as welcomed guests, but not as members and not as self-identifying Mormons.

    4. There are plenty of reasons to believe in God outside of Mormonism.

    5. Beliefs are primary and behavior is secondary, because the only behavior that matters is that which flows from true and right belief.

    6. God is a jealous God who demands that he be praise and worshipped as the best of all beings, and who will harshly punish those who refuse to worship him.

    7. Critics should engage non-official teachings of the Mormon tradition, culture, correlation, etc.

    8. We love systematic, integrated theology, thinking through the implications of achieving godhood, etc.

    9. The Church is true and when we say that as youngsters behind the podium, we know what that means.

    10. We trust the Bible to not have been fundamentally trustworthy, we encourage the study of original Biblical languages, and we value exegesis and examine the teachings of our leaders against the probable original meaning of the text.

    11. When we leave Mormonism, we generally remain committed believers in the resurrection of Jesus.

    12. My personhood is not co-eternal with God, rather God himself created my essential personhood.

    13. Not everything is composed of matter.

    14 & 15. There is an ultimate being from whom absolutely all other things (not to be relativized to one generation of the gods) come.

    16. All eternal laws come from an ultimate personal being.

  16. Woops, intended a colon after “believe that” (preceding the list of 16)

  17. Aaron,

    If someone becomes an atheist at my church, their membership is rescinded, but they are always welcome to attend just like any other non-member. One need not force a dichotomy between “leave and never come back” and “stay on the rolls of a church whose fundamental tenets you disagree with”. But that should already be obvious.

    Fair enough. I did not even think of that other possibility, so I still think this counts as a very different approach between the two worldviews/institutions.

    As for the “proud” disassociation: It concerns matters that Mormons already have heard about, will affirm if pressed, yet will ensure others that they don’t think about very often — as though thinking about them often would be unfitting or unethical or shameful.

    yeah, I don’t think this happens as much as you want to imply it does. Or maybe it does and we’re in agreement, but from the examples you’ve given, I don’t see a good example of it.

    …Also, who are you talking about again? “Mormons” or “Practical Mormon Atheists”?

    Have fun continuing to pick the list apart. I invite you to argue for the alternatives, that somehow Mormons generally believe that.

    yep, I reiterate the question again…who are you talking about again? Mormons or Practical Mormon Atheists?

    if we’re talking about the latter, then

    1) Yes, Practical Mormon Atheists are at the forefront of believing that the practices they find to be harmful should be refuted, engaged, and criticized. That’s why Practical Mormon Atheists are generally at the forefront of LGBT rights, fighting patriarchy, calling for financial disclosure, etc.,

    2) I didn’t disagree with your original statement, but if I had to point out how practical mormon atheists might disagree with your statement, I’d point out by saying that they would not need to believe

    2. Faith is rooted in evidence that can be publicly scrutinized.

    …in order to disagree with your statement. One common claim I see from practical Mormon atheists is that faith is not really about mental assent at all, but rather about trust, community membership, etc., In this case, faith is rooted in the pattern/habit of actions that one takes that leads to various effects on one’s life. I do see PMAs commonly taking this alternative view of faith — and many topics/forum posts/blogs from both believing Mormons and ex-Mormons experiencing some frustration with this approach.

    3. Those who turn atheist can keep attending as welcomed guests, but not as members and not as self-identifying Mormons.

    In this case, I think that the PMA would tend to agree with your original statement. per my earlier response, Mormonism doesn’t really have as much of a “welcome non-member” perspective as your church appears to, so non-members are going to be seen as prospective members (hopefully on the way in), and atheist members are going to be seen as projects to reactivate (if possible to do so) or lost causes to disassociate from (if not possible to reactivate). I think that PMAs determine their response accordingly.

    4. There are plenty of reasons to believe in God outside of Mormonism.

    PMAs recognize that there are other religions with spiritual experiences just as legitimate as Mormonism’s. They might (as atheists) believe that all that legitimacy amounts to 0, but still. Easy to believe this alternative…

    5. Beliefs are primary and behavior is secondary, because the only behavior that matters is that which flows from true and right belief.

    I thought your original statement 5 was spot on. (But then I think it should be spot on for everyone ;) )

    6. God is a jealous God who demands that he be praise and worshipped as the best of all beings, and who will harshly punish those who refuse to worship him.

    In my post, I pointed that PMAs probably would agree with your original assertion here. I think those who believe this assertion will usually toss the entire god concept out (hence your traditional Christianity will have some recruitment problems.)

    7. Critics should engage non-official teachings of the Mormon tradition, culture, correlation, etc.

    I don’t know if you’re aware, but PMAs are ALL ABOUT pointing out problems (and even room for growth) with non-official teachings of the Mormon tradition, culture, correlation, etc., Hence you have “uncorrelated” Mormons both who will point out problems with uncorrelated aspects of the church, point out problems with how correlation shies away from some uncorrelated aspects that could be helpful, etc.,

    8. We love systematic, integrated theology, thinking through the implications of achieving godhood, etc.

    Two words: Dan Wotherspoon

    Two other words: Taylor Petrey

    (oh wait…I don’t think either of these count as atheists. But still, these are kinda the “liberal” “slippery” Mormons who seem to be thinking outside of the institutional box — especially things like godhood, eternal progression (and increase), etc.,

    9. The Church is true and when we say that as youngsters behind the podium, we know what that means.

    This doesn’t seem like a good alternative to your original 9. The real reason the PMA doesn’t agree with your original 9 is because they don’t know “the church is true”.

    10. We trust the Bible to not have been fundamentally trustworthy, we encourage the study of original Biblical languages, and we value exegesis and examine the teachings of our leaders against the probable original meaning of the text.

    Two words: Jared Anderson.

    This is also one that doesn’t seem to be a good alternative to your original statement. Yeah, people don’t find the Bible to be fundamentally trustworthy…and the teachings of the leaders certainly cannot be taken at face value (for PMAs). But looking at the “probably original meaning of the text” doesn’t necessarily get you to traditional Christianity either.

    11. When we leave Mormonism, we generally remain committed believers in the resurrection of Jesus.

    I didn’t disagree with this one (but I find a typo in my original post)…my point 11 should have referred to point 6, not to 5.

    12. My personhood is not co-eternal with God, rather God himself created my essential personhood.

    Not a good alternative. The PMA doesn’t believe his personhood to be coeternal with God because he doesn’t believe in God.

    13. Not everything is composed of matter.

    Depends on the PMA you ask, but I wouldn’t necessarily say they would disagree with your original statement

    14 & 15. There is an ultimate being from whom absolutely all other things (not to be relativized to one generation of the gods) come.

    The PMA is an atheist.

    16. All eternal laws come from an ultimate personal being.

    The PMA is an atheist.

  18. Thanks for putting my feet to the fire and forcing me to be more clear and consistent in the future.

    This might help you understand what I getting at: when I encounter a self-identifying Mormon on the street, even if they are defensive of Mormonism, I simply cannot make the strong assumption that they believe in the existence of God (strongly defined as Most High or weakly defined as one among many supernatural fatherly beings), that they actually “believe” in Mormonism beyond social allegiance, or that their deep participation in Mormonism implies a fundamental belief in its tenets. I have to ask questions and probe.

    On many of the items of the original “creed” you seem to simply agree that PMA’s would generally agree. That you keep demanding a distinction between PMA’s and Mormons shows you have missed my larger point (I am sorry if I have done a poor job of communicating it).

    What I am trying to get at is a shared general attitude and atheistic impulse that many Mormons have — which has a ton of overlap with much of full-blown atheism itself. Make no mistake, I am criticizing Mormonism for having an atheistic underbelly. It is riddled with full-blown atheists (encouraged to remain and keep participating as members), closet atheists (afraid of the social and familial implications of ‘coming out’), and, *most* important to recognize, latent, unwitting atheists. Mormonism and atheism are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. They function as close worldview-neighbors.

    There are certainly exceptions to my generalizations, those for whom items on the “creed” don’t fit. But mere exceptional counter-examples don’t refute larger generalizations.

    Also, allow me to strength and reword #9:

    > “The Church is true. Even if I don’t believe this or understand it, I can bear testimony of it.”

    vs.

    > “The Church is true and we insist that our children not bear such testimony until they understand and believe what it means.”

  19. Darn lack of post-edit ability… I push “post” and THEN see all the typos. :)

  20. I’m seeing a lot of text here, but it looks like you (Aaron) didn’t respond to my second comment. So, do you want to have an accurate picture of others’ beliefs or not? Do you prefer to simply clarify your justifications for your impressions of what others believe?

  21. Aaron,

    Sorry that I don’t have comment editing…one day, I think I’ll move from wordpress.com to a wordpress.org installation so I can at least get a plugin that allows for editing.

    I’m also interested in your response to chanson’s earlier comment.

    But moving forward…

    This might help you understand what I getting at: when I encounter a self-identifying Mormon on the street, even if they are defensive of Mormonism, I simply cannot make the strong assumption that they believe in the existence of God (strongly defined as Most High or weakly defined as one among many supernatural fatherly beings), that they actually “believe” in Mormonism beyond social allegiance, or that their deep participation in Mormonism implies a fundamental belief in its tenets. I have to ask questions and probe.

    I am highly skeptical of this. I think that for the majority of self-identifying Mormons, they would believe in the existence of God (for some value of God). While I do not deny that nonbelieving, yet still self-identifying Mormons exist, I wouldn’t suppose they are so numerous that one could not assume that if one self-identifies as Mormon, then that person will believe in God.

    (I think you could make a case that “most” Mormons — as taken by the church’s “13 million members” number — are inactive…but in this case, many of those members simply would not even self-identify as Mormon. They are on the rolls, but there is no personal identity there…so that wouldn’t count toward your “self-identifying Mormon on the street” category.)

    Now, what else would those Mormons believe…that’s a good question.

    What I am trying to get at is a shared general attitude and atheistic impulse that many Mormons have — which has a ton of overlap with much of full-blown atheism itself. Make no mistake, I am criticizing Mormonism for having an atheistic underbelly.

    OK, then I can safely say that I think you’re just fundamentally wrong. I think more Mormons would believe closer to Jettboy’s comment in this thread (where Jettboy asserts that one simply *cannot* be Mormon and atheist) than an alternative where Mormonism is a worldview right next to atheism.

    Well, glad that clears up why a lot of your assertions seem really far off to me.

    Like this:

    Mormonism and atheism are not at opposite ends of the spectrum. They function as close worldview-neighbors.

    TBMs and atheists assuredly aren’t going to be buddy-buddy. heck, PMAs don’t necessarily get buddy-buddy with either non-religious atheists nor TBMs. To move from Mormonism to atheism is, for many, a really big change — which is not what you would expect from “close worldview-neighbors.”

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