Internet vs. Chapel Mormons — Yet another divider
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 cannot “drop” 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.