Skip to content

Internet vs. Chapel Mormons — Yet another divider

July 9, 2009
How does he fool anyone? Clark Kent and Superman dont even look different. At all.

How does he fool anyone? Clark Kent and Superman don't even look different. At all.

Could it be that Mormons on the internet practice a different religion than Mormons in the chapel? What would this entail?

This is the conclusion drawn by “Dr. Shades” in a theory he proposed (and presented at Sunstone a while back) that I just read about. You can find out about the hypothesis from Dr. Shades’s website, from an summarizing blog entry from Jon, the SLC Freethinking Examiner (ugh, Examiner.com), or from the second episode of the Mormon Expressions podcast, which focuses on it. And this idea has even become so (in)famous that the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) has devoted a page to it.

From what I’ve heard and read, I think there is something to the idea of Internet Mormons differing from Chapel Mormons…but I also think that this something is the start of research rather than a foregone conclusion.

One of the things that has kept me coming back for information on Mormon issues and the like has been the Bloggernacle. These sites make me realize how Mormon religion actually does have volume and depth.

I realize it’s not something I’d get on Sunday at church, even though sometimes, I get the fallacious notion that perhaps it might be. I quickly re-learn that what people say in the chapel or in lessons is often vastly different than what people say in the Bloggernacle. So the Bloggernacle several times outpaces the chapel for me.

To me, the presence of a divider between Internet Mormonism vs. Chapel Mormonism is trivially true. Regardless of if the details are off, the essence seems sound. I never heard about the idea of a localized flood, or of non-continental (not to mention other theories) Book of Mormon geography in a correlated lesson at church. And while I think some apologetic rhetoric stretches the bounds of reason, I still am intrigued.

I testify that the divider is a good thing. Hey…I read the words of GAs more carefully than ever before!  😉

And yet, from reading FAIR’s response to Dr. Shades or from reading the responses to Jon at Examiner.com, I realize that this is just the start of an idea.

Dr. Shades is a decent marketer to have attracted the attention of FAIR and Sunstone. But sometimes, marketing is puffery. He claims (and in the podcast @9:50, reasons that “the idea doesn’t really sink in unless [he] puts it in such radical terms) that the distinction represents the development of two completely different religions. He later argues more directly against apologist groups like FAIR or FARMS, suggesting that as a result of the dichotomy (and specifically of a claim of who has “insider knowledge” or not), FAIR actually implies that the General Authorities (who most often aren’t using apologist-like rhetoric) are uneducated or untrustworthy on these issues. So, the innocuous distinction becomes a subtle way to set apologist “at variance with” General Authority.

So, it’s easy to see why FAIR tries to defend themselves, but I do feel that FAIR’s wiki aims for the periphery. FAIR attacks the hypothesis by noting that many of these disagreements are nonessential for LDS belief either way, so being on one side or another of a given issue doesn’t affect the fundamentals of a testimony. Additionally, FAIR argues that Shades proposes a false dichotomy. Many of these positions aren’t either/or positions, and most certainly, it is not the case that if one believes one way, one *is* Mormon, and if one believes the other way, one is *not* Mormon.

And while Shades doesn’t argue that any side is less Mormon, he does use charged rhetoric like, “two completely different religions,” and he does propose a battlefield wherein chapel Mormons and internet Mormons harm each other’s credibility. FAIR cannotdrop” this argument or they give credence to the idea that they secretly are faith-promoting heretics at odds with “standard” and “correlated” doctrine.

Yet, FAIR misses the simple point that most wouldn’t disagree with. Whether it be Iron Rod/Liahona, Internet/Chapel, NOM/TBM, we recognize divisions.

But I think Shades drops the ball a few times too.

Firstly, this isn’t a “theory.” This is a hypothesis with publicity. FAIR dismisses based on the unscientific-ness of the data, but I think that is an immature response. Rather, I think this is an opportunity to look deeper. Can we measure a statistically relevant “pattern” of arguments in Ensign or General Conference talks, representing authoritative positions? Is there a “pattern” of arguments in “the pews” or “the chapel,” representing culturally accepted doctrines and beliefs? And finally, is there a “pattern” of arguments on the “internet” or within apologist circles, representing the forefront of LDS defense formulation? And the clincher: how do these differ and why?

That’s what I’d like to see.

Another place (that he even comments about in the podcast) is that he ruins his credibility through his motives, so, even though we can all imagine dichotomies like this, FAIR remains skeptical about Shades’ in particular.

I *cried* when I heard his response to the question “Do you consider yourself an anti-Mormon” because it was so bad. No, he’s not an anti-Mormon, because he has nothing against the people. But he’s a critic or perhaps an anti-Mormonism.

Yes, that’s an honest answer, and yes, it’s good to distinguish, but it is almost politician-like in dodge ability. The answer he gave for his motives seemed similarly dodgy. It dodges in a bad way.

So, with a difference in attitudes or motives, I think the ideas could go further. On a recent post at Mormon Matters, a member highlighted how the people who frequent a blog would be a different demographic that the general church-going fare. I think one can ask the question (or at least, beg it) without having any motives that set the sides at odds with one another.

And I’d be interested if such research could go forth.

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

14 Comments
  1. I read your stuff frequently. You often have a very good way of putting things. There is a lot of value in discussing stuff like this without all the emotional baggage that comes with it. You always seem to do a good job of anticipating this in how you present. Well done.

    To me I think there is an obvious demographic difference, and a different expectation of rhetoric and behavior. It is an obvious difference to me, but not necessarily bad.

  2. While I would hope that more people thought I was so cool, it seems not so. Apparently, if some people are to believed, I’m a ticking time bomb on the way to become the next Ed Decker.

    I agree that it’s an obvious demographic difference, and I also agree it’s not a bad thing. But I’m wondering if the well, so to speak, has been poisoned already?

  3. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Re: Andrew

    Could you be more specific on the poisoning of the well? The well is the church and the poison is the split between church and internet Mormons?

  4. In my mind, the well is the hypothesis. It is the idea of different kinds of Mormonism. The poison is the motivation of using this idea to pit internet vs. chapel Mormons.

    I mean, imagine if FAIR’s anti- sirens didn’t immediately go off…without those, they might look at a hypothesis at this and think, “hmm…maybe we should do more research on this.” Because I think it could be helpful to know folk beliefs “in the pews,” vs. the beliefs preached from HQ vs. the beliefs of apologists and those who deal with attacks online. I think it could perhaps change the church (or at least begin the process wherein apologists or GAs could try to squash some popularly held beliefs in the chapel authoritatively).

    But at this point, FAIR feels it’s a hostile idea. And Shades has said a few things that don’t make that too farfetched a conclusion.

  5. “I never heard about the idea of a localized flood, or of non-continental (not to mention other theories) Book of Mormon geography in a correlated lesson at church.

    Andrew, we should start going to the same ward. Of course now that I’ve been released as GD teacher, you won’t hear a correlated lesson on that either, but at least we can skip Sunday School and talk about geography theories or Noah’s flood in the hall! 🙂

    I have to agree that there is a difference between Chapel Mormons and Internet Mormons. I also agree that it is the start of research, not the end. There probably isn’t too big of a divide right now, but I can see the divide getting wider if the current trends continue. However, I can also see another shift towards conservatism, as seems to happen between the decades of the 70’s and 80’s. It’s hard to predict how things will turn out in the future.

  6. Going back to church to skip Sunday School? That’s something…

  7. Andrew,

    I really like your response to the Internet Vs. Chapel Mormon idea. This was my favorite part:

    “I *cried* when I heard his response to the question “Do you consider yourself an anti-Mormon” because it was so bad. No, he’s not an anti-Mormon, because he has nothing against the people. But he’s a critic or perhaps an anti-Mormonism.

    Yes, that’s an honest answer, and yes, it’s good to distinguish, but it is almost politician-like in dodge ability. The answer he gave for his motives seemed similarly dodgy. It dodges in a bad way.”

    I like your honesty and your perspective and I think you are correct about the “politician-like dodging”. Thanks for listening!

    -Tom

  8. Andrew, as a self-proclaimed heretic, I give myself the liberty to do things differently at church. If you came with me, just think of it as our own Gospel Tangents class!

  9. Thank you, Andrew, for this essay! I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

  10. sxark permalink

    My concern is that a rift may occur between the “enlightened” internet users and those that, either choose not to engage on the internet or do not have access.

    So much info is transmitted on the internet and paraphrased that one really has to check the original written source concerning what Apostle or Prophet really said.

    A great concern, for me, is that LDS missionaries give their testimonies to interested parties and, probably, the 1st thing these parties do, is go on the internet – to check out the LDS church further. The internet is still a jungle.

  11. I think, sxark, that that is the prediction. That there is starting to form a “rift” between “enlightened” internet users and those who do not or choose not to access.

    I think that this prediction is overblown, currently, but I think that there is some kind of divergence between on-the-ground preaching (e.g., what the missionaries will say or what will come out on Sunday) and what others will say (e.g., apologists, people gabbing on the internet)

  12. sxark permalink

    Andrew:

    Would you agree that active physical participation in church is now more important than ever for ones personal salvation?

  13. since I don’t believe in any traditional form of “salvation,” I’m not sure if I’m qualified to answer the question.

    I’m leaning toward saying, “No,” though. Not to say that participation in online communities is better…but more that the church doesn’t matter. People do.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The 2009 Brodie Winners Are… | Main Street Plaza

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: