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Post-Mormon Identity

August 30, 2009

In my latest article at Main Street Plaza, I thought about what is in a Mormon identity and what the terms we use imply about us. Because even if labeling is silly and should only be pursued lightheartedly, I can’t help but feel as if it is something that we use in communication (and that gets to thoughts about recent conversation with Andrew Callahan on this site about the expectations we have when we use certain terms with certain people.) It’s already hard to describe believing Mormons, because True Believing Mormon and New Order Mormon are prickly terms to deal with, liberal Mormon too, and all the number of terms people have devised (Liahona vs. Iron Rod? Carrot vs. Stick? and so on) are each thorny. Yet, we can tell that people are different and it might be meaningful to see if there is any relation.

Mormons, it seems, don’t come all in one stripe.

Of course, non-believing Mormons don’t come in one stripe either, hence my post.

My worry was that terms were inadequate. I didn’t quite feel ex-mormon, because of connotations of that. Same with disaffected Mormon underground. Yet, I’m not just inactive. I can never be the same as a non-member.

In the post, I thought I had an issue with the construction post-, so I thought I couldn’t use it. (I think I got such a concept from Chanson either here or here.)

But Holly quickly commented back and provided what I thought was a convincing argument against my use of post-. She has also, since then, written a post elaborating on her reasoning and introducing the idea of a “Mormon Alumni Association.” In particular, I liked that she related it to real-world uses of the term post-, like here:

Similarly, post-modernism began primarily as a literary and artistic term, an attempt to express the idea that we are mired in modernity, even though modernity is not adequate to describe our condition or meet our needs; hence we’re left with post-modernity, which, among other things, is fractured, inadequate, ironic, and endlessly self-referential.

One dictionary definition of post-modernism is: “of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language.”

Likewise, to me, post-Mormonism involves a radical reappraisal of religious assumptions about culture, identity, history or language.

I can completely agree with this, down even to the idea that post-Mormonism for many of us is “fractured, inadequate, ironic, and endlessly self-referential” (cue members saying, “They leave the church, but can’t leave it alone…”)

So I think I’m happy to use this definition of post- instead. But indeed, many people lament and regret post-modernism and wish we’d just “move on” from it, so I wonder if it’s necessary to “move on” from post-Mormonism?

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  1. The moving on aspect is part of what I like about a Mormon alumni association. But I think that lots of people who complain about post-Mormons who don’t “move on” to their satisfaction confuse our interest in our own lives with an interest in the church. I really don’t care about the church, aside from certain political stances it takes. I don’t pay attention to who’s in charge. I don’t read church publications.

    However, I care about my life. I care about the memories, good and bad, that I formed growing up Mormon and going on a mission and so forth. I care about the way Mormonism shaped my personality and my relationships. If paying attention to and being aware of those things, if discussing and analyzing my own identity and Mormonism’s role in it, if the whole big messy shebang means I’m not going to “move on” at the pace most comfortable to those who don’t move at all, who stay firmly entrenched in the intellectual wasteland of conventional Mormonism, well, tough shit.

  2. Again, nicely stated (people who complain about post-Mormons who don’t “move on” to their satisfaction confuse our interest in our own lives w/ an interest in the church.) I think I have recognized this in another venue — many times, people will argue that atheists shouldn’t argue anything about God because they don’t believe in it…but it seems to me that really, in these cases, the atheists are arguing about an idea that is pervasive that actually does affect their interests.

    I especially like your second paragraph: really, these are our lives so we’ll determine what pace and in what directions we’ll be going!

  3. it seems to me that really, in these cases, the atheists are arguing about an idea that is pervasive that actually does affect their interests.

    absolutely. Why shouldn’t atheists care as much as anybody about the nature of reality?

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