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Which culture pervades more: religious or national?

November 24, 2008

So, I was reading the Sunday in Outer Blogness weekly compilation (and not merely because Irresistible (Dis)grace was mentioned in it — :D, thanks guys!), and I was checking out some of the church resignation letters…and while it is true that some of these resignations were responses to Prop 8, this isn’t a prop 8 post — I promise! So, the resignation post was over zher, and that led me to a lengthy comment war over nar. And the comments section is where we set the stage.

A comment by Kullervo intrigued me:

…Even if you were raised Mormon, membership is voluntary. Yes, I realize that it is technically possible to expatriate yourself and renounce your US citizenship, but there are enormous differences of degree. It’s way more reasonable and more convenient to leave a Church than it is to leave a country.

Furthermore, as a Mormon, you raise your hand at least once a year to sustain your leadership. You can split hairs about exactly what that means if you want, but…the point is that part of being a Mormon is supporting the decisions made by the hierarchy. The fact that you voted against Prop 8 doesn’t absolve you from responsibility. This isn’t like post-colonial guilt by association: you’re not being blamed for the accident of your birth or citizenship. You actively and voluntarily support the organization that bears the overwhelming majority of the responsibility for passing Proposition 8.

This gave me a lot of inspiration for topics. At first, I wanted to talk about this idea of active and voluntary sustaining…because it meshes so well with a uniquely Mormon anxiety about following leaders you feel to be Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, even when you personally disagree with them. When you pay tithes and raise the right hand, then even if you voted the other way, you don’t necessarily absolve all responsibility. An accident of birth or citizenship, unchosen and unchangeable, is different…it would be ridiculous to punish you for Adam’s sins (take that original sin!).

But what about ex-Mormons who leave the church but remain on the rolls? Some say that it’s not necessarily worth it to go through the resignation process. After all, if you leave and the church stops bothering you…? Chanson writes something that I agree with: we don’t necessarily want to reject the Mormon heritage, but we also don’t “want [our] connection with [our] people to be taken as approval of the actions of this corporation.”

How do you differentiate the two? It seems like Kullervo provides a slightly more convincing argument for resigning. If one isn’t willing to resign from an organization one disagrees with…

BUT. Even that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about (and I hope I don’t make this entry too long being tangential–)

Let’s go back to Kullervo’s comment:

It’s way more reasonable and more convenient to leave a Church than it is to leave a country.

Now, from a physical point of view, one letter sent to the church is easier than the entire process of getting new citizenship…but is that the issue?

Seth R. says:

Bogus Kullervo.

I’d have a much easier time renouncing US citizenship than my faith. You’re projecting your own attitude about the faith here.

At first, I ignored (sorry Seth!) Seth’s point. Because he put it in terms of that f word. Sometimes, I translate “faith” as “irrational wedge” and leave it alone…but Seth’s words are more meaningful. Even for someone who has no faith, one can still have cultural identity.

And it was Kullervo’s response that got me on that track:

Yeah yeah, Church is culture, but trust me, “American” defines us a whole lot more comprehensively than “Mormon” does.

The record scratched here. For me, “Mormon” describes me (and Seth) a lot more comprehensively than “American” does. I’m probably ruining my chances for running for President in 20-something years, but as a military brat, I’ve lived in Canada and Korea for…a while. Not enough to say I’m Canadian or Korean, but enough to say that being a military brat is different than being a normal American. It’s a well-known effect of not only military brats but also any number of kids raised in international environments: they become third-culture kids. Where are these children’s homes? Is it where their passport says? Where their citizenship is? Which is better: GDP or GNP?

But even without the international red herring, American culture isn’t such great glue anyway. I hope this link works (Something Awful randomly closes access to outsiders), but this person raised this German concept of Gemeinschaftsgefuhl. (More amazingly, others in the topic had comparable terms for other languages.) It is something of a “community feeling” where people trust members of the community just because they are members. This guy noted that whereas a Germans can trust someone just because they are German…in America, you don’t necessarily trust someone just because he’s also American.

If I meet a Mormon, I feel I have a shared kind of history. We know the language. We can trust each other. Even as someone who is not active and does not agree with a lot of the doctrine. When I read Chanson’s exploits with the “mishies” overseas, that’s what it reminds me of.

So much for staying under my word limits.

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7 Comments
  1. Andrew–

    For me, “Mormon” describes me (and Seth) a lot more comprehensively than “American” does.

    No kidding…I wrote about this recently–I just don’t think “American” means anything to me anymore, yet I doubt that, even in a (non-existing) world where I am not a believer anymore, I can’t imagine being mentally capable of truly shedding my Mormon history and culture. I can shed American attributes almost at will, however…like whenever I visit my in-laws (in Finland).

  2. I think that if I could be the nonbeliever you for just a moment, then I could say just as well that Mormon is a much bigger descriptive than American for me as well. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the fact that I’m also a military brat, so I effectively lived several years out of country, but I think this is at least somewhat of a common thread.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mormon Life lessons « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. About those who leave the church but don’t leave it alone « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  3. LDS Deconversion is a process, Irr DisG indicates « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  4. Who is a Cultural Mormon? at Mormon Matters
  5. Who is a Cultural Mormon? | Wheat and Tares

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