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Middle Way Mormonism and Authenticity

November 28, 2009

Don’t believe enough to be an orthodox, true-blue Mormon…

…but you still have some compelling reason to stay…you don’t want to abandon your Mormonism…

Is there such a thing as a Middle Way?

Many people think so. Madam Curie wrote a great blog post assessing if Middle Way Mormonism is actually possible for the Mormon church. Since I’m very interested in this kind of topic, I wrote an excessively lengthy comment back…but I wanted to address the issue here too. I wanted to address the subject from a perspective of personal integrity or authenticity.

I think of authenticity as an awareness — and an effort to seek — whatever one truly is. Authenticity is highly subjective, of course. It depends on one’s attitudes, feelings, emotions, and a load of other things that are highly personal. But the mission is to try to scrape away all the junk…all the noise…all of the inauthenticities we bring upon ourselves (or which is brought upon us) by the roles we play with others.

Being authentic doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve discovered objective reality or truth. We would like to think this, but…history hasn’t been on our side. However, the good thing is that authenticity doesn’t necessarily really care about the final reality…or maybe the final reality doesn’t care about authenticity.

How do we know when we are being authentic or not? Authenticity, I think, brings harmony, peace, joy, and these other “good” things. It is knowing you’re on the right track. It’s not just about happiness…because you can be sad or under stress and still have be on the right track. Rather, it’s about something deeper…something more subtle, but more fulfilling.

At the same time, inauthenticity is the opposite of these things. It’s not simple sadness, but it is something that reaches to our core…it is as if we are killing ourselves. We are annihilating ourselves. We are forsaking ourselves. Because we are denying and lying about ourselves and we are the only ones who can even possibly tell our story, if we won’t or don’t tell it, it dies.

Being Mormon (or anything else…being a teacher…being a son…being a husband…) involves playing certain roles with respect to others in the environment. It creates expectations on the relationship with family, friends, priesthood leadership, and even God.

It would be ideal if these expectations resonated with the way we viewed ourselves and the way we felt. Whenever this is the case, we can say that being Mormon (or a teacher…or whatever) does not break our authenticity. I believe that for many true blue Mormons, Mormonism is authentic for them. It is what they truly are (whether permanently or at that stage of time.) So, they find joy from Mormonism. And some interpret this as the truthfulness of the church.

However, this isn’t the case for all members…for some…something within or about the church drills deeply and painfully. It doesn’t feel right to us, and continuing to pretend that it does feel like we are killing ourselves.

When this is the case, what do we do?

While there are many solutions, one such solution is Middle Way Mormonism…and this is where the controversy comes in. Because while the doubting member acknowledges that something about the church drills into their very livelihood…they also recognize that to eliminate Mormonism itself from their lives would drill into them another way. So…why can’t they reach a happy medium? Why can’t they have family, community, the beliefs that resonate with them…without the guilt, frustration, troublesome beliefs? Why can’t they be a Middle Way Mormon?

I think the concept is great…but I have reservations. I don’t understand it…I don’t get the appeal.

Because for one…Mormonism has an institution. Its institution sets guidelines, rules, and expectations. When one decides to disassociate from these expectations and create their own, one risks the chance of incurring the wrath of the institution. Why should someone do this?

So, let’s take a temple recommend interview, for example. A good, faithful Mormon has a role expectation to be a faithful, worthy, temple recommend holder. How does the middle-way Mormon get around these expectations while maintaining appearances of being a good, faithful Mormon? John Dehlin has an article (which I’ve gone over in detail) called “How to stay in the LDS Church after a Major Challenge to Your Faith” that suggests some solutions. Control+F for his section “temple recommend.”

There you will see some ways he suggests to reassess the worthiness interview and its questions.

And here comes some of my biggest issues with the middle way. These reassessments, these new answers and new ways of looking at the questions…strike me deeply as inauthentic. The assumptions that John lists at the beginning of the section don’t seem ad hoc to me…rather, they seem to be reasonable assumptions made based on years of living within the church about what people would believe are operational definitions of terms. So, I couldn’t simply disregard them without feeling in the back of my mind that I’m changing the rules on my bishop or stake president. If I did, I feel I would be purposefully answering questions in a way that I believe they would interpret my “yes” answers in a different way than I do. And this strikes me as a self-annihilating act.

So, middle way Mormonism loses its allure for me. It makes more sense to admit that I am not a faithful Mormon. From there, I believe that ex-Mormonism, which doesn’t have an “institution” with tight expectations, allows me to freely and authentically define my ex-Mormonism.

But…I have to recognize that others’ mileages may vary…I must imagine that when John answers these questions, he does not feel deceptive or coy in the slightest. He must not feel any internal conflict, much less a metaphysical annihilation of personal integrity. So for him and many others, the middle way path may yet be authentic. Who am I to take that away from them?

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21 Comments
  1. Thank you for this post. It’s sensitive and insightful and thought-provoking.

    One piece that you wrote was that you don’t “get” how to be a middle way mormon when there is an institution established already. This is interesting because the roots of mormonism were established by a young man who had an experience that told him to build a new way rather than joining the already existing churches. He found a new way by transforming his relationship with religion. Just a thought.

    • TH:

      But don’t you see. Joseph Smith (allegedly) asked the Lord, “Which of these churches should I join?” The answer: “None of them.”

      The early doctrine? All the churches are in great apostasy. That’s been toned down in recent years so the church (at least the CoJCoL-dS one) can play buddy-buddy with evangelicals who still think the Mormons are kooky cultists, but nonetheless, that was the message.

      Imagine if Joseph Smith just “middle-way’d” Methodism or something like that.

  2. Sofal permalink

    This really gets into the dilemma of whether to approach some aspects of life as a game or as an honest quest. This dichotomy seems to pop up everywhere. You try to go to school solely for the pursuit of learning, but pretty soon you find yourself having to cut corners (not by cheating, but more like focusing on rote memorization rather than exploring ideas) in order to satisfy the requirements that are associated with “success”. You try to begin your career by treating it as an honest trade of effort for reward, but you quickly learn that there is a game to be played.

    Politics are everywhere, and it’s always a game. Jokes about politicians aside, I truly don’t think it is possible to be an effective politician and keep your standards of authenticity, Andrew. When you’re playing politics, image management trumps inner consistency, so you’d better hope your definition of “authenticity” is flexible.

    The ethics of honesty and dishonesty are pretty complicated. For one thing, you can’t just come out and say exactly what you’re thinking right when you’re thinking it. It can come out wrong, or maybe it will come out right but since nobody is able to put it in the right context, it will end badly. Think of Max Hall’s recent comments about the Utes. Was his apology afterward dishonest? His initial comments were an example of really poor image management, but I have no reason to believe they weren’t completely honest to begin with. However, the hoi polloi cannot put anything like that into context, as if it is surprising that a human being could harbor some general resentment over past abuses. Do we have an ethical responsibility for image management?

    I think “authenticity” is a vague and relative concept. During your first trip to the temple there are covenants and promises that are suddenly thrust upon you in a bored, routine manner by nice old people who are just waiting for you and everyone else to say “yes” so that they can move things along. If you’re not sure about those covenants, are you really going to let that cultural experience bring you guilt and anguish over a perceived violation of authenticity? Or will you simply distinguish promises made with careful consideration and informed consent from rituals carried out under psychological pressure to conform?

    Are you going to let a few thought-police questions cause a giant painful rift in your familial relationships at an inopportune time when the alternative hurts nobody other than your invisible authenticity?

  3. Sofal,

    If you are Machiavelli, then there is no inauthenticity to being a politician. There is no inauthenticity to finding loopholes and so on.

    That being said, I’m not Machiavelli. You set a dichotomy, and I think it’s an important one to make:

    I truly don’t think it is possible to be an effective politician and keep your standards of authenticity

    But this raises a question: why care about being an effective politician? You seem resigned to the fact that politics is everywhere and everything is a game. But you are incorrect. Politics seeks the limelight…so if you avoid the limelight, you avoid politics. Politics seeks power and wealth, so if you avoid power and wealth, you avoid politics.

    Now, many people would take the power and wealth. They’d rather advance in their careers. I can’t really blame them…they’ve got families to feed, after all. But don’t act like there isn’t another option. Don’t act as if you could forsake all of the sludge if you wanted, as long as you were willing to forsake the creature comforts that were forged by the sludge.

    I don’t hope that my definition of authenticity is flexible. I hope that I’m strong enough not to yield to the crass demands of flesh and bone. I hope that I’m strong enough for my standards.

    Your comments about honesty and image management are interesting…I’ve talked about them in a conversation on Mormon Matters, but I haven’t gotten far about it.

    I think image management often is dishonesty. It’s just that we often don’t care about honesty enough (for example, if we care more about relationships, then let’s at least be honest with ourselves — we care more about the relationship than about honesty with others.) Whether we value relationships more than honesty is our judgment call…I think some people value honesty *way* too much.

    Getting back to authenticity though…*of course* it is a relative concept (because it is subjective). If it is vague, it is because I am poor at explaining it.

    The temple trip (along with the temple interview) is one of the biggest examples of inauthenticity I’ve faced in the church. It’s when I’ve truly realized I don’t believe, and I hate feeling bound to answer that I do (or else suffer the image hit that you’ve talked about as well). I can’t simply choose to wave it away, and simply “distinguish promises made with careful consideration…under psychological pressure to perform.” To do this would be to wave away my integrity…because at the end of the day, I still have to wonder: does this mean my will…my integrity…my self…isn’t strong enough to resist psychological pressure? If it is not, then I am in a sad state indeed.

    For me, I have to protect authenticity over family. I understand others’ mileages may vary (so they stay in the church and maintain relationships). For me, relationships are worth nothing unless I have personal integrity. Authenticity and integrity may be invisible to every person outside of the person who struggles with it, but for the person who struggles with it, it is the most real thing there ever can be. Other people can be illusions that disappear as soon as you leave the room…but your authenticity can never leave you.

  4. madamcurie permalink

    I think there are two important distinctions to be made in terms of authenticity here: authentically “you” (i.e., autonomy) and authentically “Mormon” (i.e., orthodoxy). Every Middle-way Mormon is essentially trying to balance who they are intrinsically with what Mormonism demands that they give up of self. At some point, those who become ex-Mormon or post-Mormon have realized that they gave up more of themselves trying to be Mormon than they retained.

    I don’t think anyone should completely sacrifice themselves on the altar of conformity. Those who argue that they should generally haven’t had to give up as much of themselves to conform (or, alternatively, they sacrificed themselves and think “all should be miserable like unto themselves”).

  5. I agree with the distinctions…and I agree that the weighing of the two is really how an individual determines which path is reasonable.

    I agree with you about sacrifice. The weird thing is…I’m meeting more and more people who seem to fit the category…they seem to have sacrificed themselves and are now fixated that that’s what life is all about. They are *resigned* to this misery, it appears.

  6. Gorgeous whistler permalink

    Andrew,

    I don’t know you at all. I have no idea of your life experience. I can only speak of what my life has taught me. As appealing as authenticity is as an ideal, I side with Sofal in that it is frequently difficult to achieve in life.

    Unvarying insistence on being authentic would render life (with its myriad personal interactions and relationships) very difficult. Aristotle himself advocated a middle way as the path most likely to yield success in life. His phrase, the golden mean often comes to mind as I struggle to determine the best course of action in any given situation. I think that may be what Madam Curie advocates above in navigating between autonomy and orthodoxy. For me, that is not selling out or being untrue to myself, it is simply the reality of living in society. I could probably only remain truly authentic to myself if I were to spend my life by myself, living in a cave (like this guy! http://www.sltrib.com/ci_13885261).

  7. Gorgeous whistler:

    Thanks for commenting…sorry it took so long to approve…I have it set that I only have to approve new commenters’ first comments…and I was gone all day.

    But, to get to your comment itself:

    As I would say to Sofal…achieving authenticity isn’t supposed to be easy. But…as they say, it’s worth it.

    Life already is difficult. So, insistence upon authenticity doesn’t change this. Rather, authenticity forces you to weight personal integrity with community integrity…remember that authenticity isn’t all or nothing. Rather, a person has to recognize when exactly he is profoundly miserable and readjust.

    For most of the people I admire in this world, they recognize that personal integrity along with integrity to their closest friends and family is most important in the weighing process…even if as a result, they forgo great wealth, power, and all of those other things.

    I don’t think Aristotle’s golden mean goes against authenticity. Rather, Aristotle would assert that the golden mean is authenticity, and vices of deficiency or of excess are both examples of inauthentic living. To determine the “best course of action in any given situation” MUST MUST MUST include a calculation (however you determine right) of what feels right to you, what satisfies and fulfills you, what does not make you want to tear your flesh in agony and misery. So, the best course of action obviously *is* an authentic course of action.

    If you truly believe that you could only remain truly authentic to yourself if you were to spend life by yourself, living in a cave, then this would mean that NOT doing this brings pervasive misery to you. I don’t think you understand what I mean by misery if you truly believe this is the case. This isn’t “trial” or “tribulation” or “sadness.” You will have that. Life is difficult. This is a sense that you are completely annihilating what you are for. What you were meant to do. I don’t think ‘what you were meant to do’ excludes all other people. Although, as a relatively introverted person myself, I understand that I *do* need time to rewind…my idea of a fun time isn’t going to some crowded party.

  8. madamcurie permalink

    This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.

    – Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82

    I think authenticity to self is a spectrum. At one end, seems to be an unwillingness of change or accept shortcomings within ourselves, as well as an unwillingness to compromise. At the other end is complete annihilation of self for another’s whims or desires. I don’t think God wants either of those from us.

  9. From a few comments about authenticity, I think I’ve really given the wrong impression about it.

    Authenticity isn’t necessarily “set against” community. Rather, you must look within yourself to see how much you feel so aligned to the community that it is a part of yourself and its wellbeing is a part of yours. So, it’s a weighing act of so many subjective factors.

    To address Madam Curie’s latest comment:

    I would go back with what gorgeous whistler had brought up with the golden mean. Vices of deficiency *and* of excess are both inauthenticity. Authenticity is the fit…I just think most people recognize that they truly want to improve…so willingness (and effort) to improve is part of authenticity. However, think about it…there are TRILLIONS of ways you can improve every single moment. This is because of the breadth of options available for you to choose. What determines the ways you focus on or not? THIS is when you look inside. To only listen to another’s whims without evaluating if they agree with your whims is the annihilation.

  10. Sofal permalink

    Just to clarify that I understand: the example of passing the temple interview is something that would cause you huge inauthenticity pains, simply because of your subjective definition of integrity and how important it is, but it wouldn’t necessarily cause another unbeliever the same amount of inauthenticity. If so, then I think we’re agreed.

    As far as politics (or should I say image management) goes, I would posit that they are so pervasive that you can hardly have relationships with other humans without some form of image management involved. If it is a form of dishonesty (and I can see how it can be described as such), then it truly permeates just about all endeavors involving two or more humans. To avoid the limelight, power, fame, etc. seems like a reasonable thing to choose if you view those things on a grand, macro-scale. But if you consider the smaller things that you have to accomplish just to stay alive, like getting a job, then you see examples of how image management come into play. You have to shed some good light on yourself in your day to day interactions. Is this dishonesty? That depends on how you define it. It’s definitely image management, and it involves representing yourself in a skewed manner in order to appease someone else.

    To take a completely purist approach with absolutely no image management is theoretically possible I suppose, but I don’t believe that any normally functioning human being does this.

    Your idea of authenticity no doubt leaves plenty of room for others to make politics and hypocrisy part of their own authenticity (the Machiavelli approach). My point is that there is no practical escape from either 1) allowing a little bit of it into your authenticity for certain things, or 2) dealing with a little inauthenticity for the sake of survival. The amount that you can accept will vary of course. The only difference between those two options is that (2) causes some inner conflict (so I’d recommend to someone in category (2) that he/she not become a salesperson).

    I’m trying to convey the idea that this authenticity thing is a give-or-take along with other important sources of satisfaction. You said, “For me, I have to protect authenticity over family,” which tells me that you distinguish the satisfaction achieved through authenticity from the satisfaction achieved through maintaining relationships. You also say, “For me, relationships are worth nothing unless I have personal integrity,” which I think is truly strange, because this goes beyond a simple ranking of priorities. That statement means more than just “I value personal integrity over relationships”. It means: “I get absolute zero satisfaction from relationships until my personal integrity has reached a threshold,” which makes for a strangely discontinuous function.

    In my case, I think I would define “personal integrity” slightly differently than you do, but for the sake of example let us assume I define it the same way. The following is a crude model, but I use it to illustrate how I believe most people approach their decisions. First of all, the goal is to maximize satisfaction. Authenticity cannot be held up as the sole means of achieving this, unless you want to stretch the definition of authenticity to mean “all things that satisfy” which would contradict your explicit separation earlier and may dilute the usefulness of the term. Rather, people give a weight to authenticity and a weight to other things like “relationships” and then those weights are multiplied by the current value of all the terms and out pops a satisfaction score. Decisions are then made by choosing whatever is perceived to be able to improve the satisfaction score the most. Imagine satisfaction as the y-axis and time as the x-axis. People often get stuck in a local maxima if they do short-sighted hill-climbing to improve their lot.

    In my case, I give a certain weight to authenticity and another smaller weight to relationships. They are thus ranked with authenticity coming before relationships. The choice that I face is whether to leave the church or remain in the church. The graph looks something like this. Why? Because there is a substantial amount of relationship assets that would burn up if I were to leave now. The amount of relationship assets at risk is simply much larger than the amount of inauthenticity I have to bear. Therefore, at this point it is best for me to remain. I’m betting the amount of inauthenticity will probably grow as time goes on, and I have personal reasons to believe that the amount of relationship damage that leaving would cause is going to slightly lesson in the future. So it’s likely that at some point in the future the two curves will meet.

  11. Sofal:

    Just to clarify that I understand: the example of passing the temple interview is something that would cause you huge inauthenticity pains, simply because of your subjective definition of integrity and how important it is, but it wouldn’t necessarily cause another unbeliever the same amount of inauthenticity. If so, then I think we’re agreed.

    Yes.

    To avoid the limelight, power, fame, etc. seems like a reasonable thing to choose if you view those things on a grand, macro-scale. But if you consider the smaller things that you have to accomplish just to stay alive, like getting a job, then you see examples of how image management come into play. You have to shed some good light on yourself in your day to day interactions. Is this dishonesty? That depends on how you define it. It’s definitely image management, and it involves representing yourself in a skewed manner in order to appease someone else.

    Again, we’d be weighing relationships (and the attendant demands on those) with honesty. I think to some point that you can just “live” and not fabricate “good light on yourself.” The best image management is to live by your word. That being said, in the event that you cannot do that and need something else, then yes, you weight honesty against relationships. You cut corners. The job, you say, is more satisfying. Meeting ends for family, you say, is more satisfying.

    To take a completely purist approach with absolutely no image management is theoretically possible I suppose, but I don’t believe that any normally functioning human being does this.

    To be certain, there isn’t such a thing as “no image management.” Rather, when you use the word image management, you often place it in this scenario that the image that MUST be preserved is different than what it is truly believed/lived/felt. But this isn’t always the case. The best image management is when you’re living authentically, and that is the message you want to portray.

    My point is that there is no practical escape from either 1) allowing a little bit of it into your authenticity for certain things, or 2) dealing with a little inauthenticity for the sake of survival. The amount that you can accept will vary of course. The only difference between those two options is that (2) causes some inner conflict (so I’d recommend to someone in category (2) that he/she not become a salesperson).

    Exactly. I don’t see any reason to disagree with this. I’d note that the inner conflict will be a huge source of pain.

    I’m trying to convey the idea that this authenticity thing is a give-or-take along with other important sources of satisfaction. You said, “For me, I have to protect authenticity over family,” which tells me that you distinguish the satisfaction achieved through authenticity from the satisfaction achieved through maintaining relationships. You also say, “For me, relationships are worth nothing unless I have personal integrity,” which I think is truly strange, because this goes beyond a simple ranking of priorities. That statement means more than just “I value personal integrity over relationships”. It means: “I get absolute zero satisfaction from relationships until my personal integrity has reached a threshold,” which makes for a strangely discontinuous function.

    It’s because, for me, the satisfaction from relationships, from family, is wasted…rotten…dissatisfying…without personal integrity. But even this too is a weighing of multiple factors. i don’t want to give the idea that they are completely separate. It’s just that….how do I say it…if you have one piece of rotten meat in a dish…it’s hard to say, “Oh, I’ll just remove this one piece and eat the rest.” No matter if the rest of the dish is good, I lose my appetite.

    Rather, people give a weight to authenticity and a weight to other things like “relationships” and then those weights are multiplied by the current value of all the terms and out pops a satisfaction score. Decisions are then made by choosing whatever is perceived to be able to improve the satisfaction score the most.

    However, I can accept this. In this case though, I would think that when one chooses something that improves their satisfaction score, they are taking into account internal suffering and misery (from any authenticity that is abandoned). So they have to make sure that the satisfaction score still stays positive despite this.

    I guess your graph makes, sense, but for me the authenticity part overpowers.
    Others’ mileages obviously vary.

  12. Sofal permalink

    The best image management is when you’re living authentically, and that is the message you want to portray.

    This assumes that 1) your true self is acceptable to your surrounding community, and 2) you’re able to convey your true self effectively to others. It requires that either you’re extremely adept at communication or other people are very good listeners (or both). The more people you interact with (directly or indirectly), the harder this is going to be. Humans use biases and crude heuristics to make quick judgments. Sooner or later you realize that a little bit of image tweaking directed toward a specific heuristic goes a long way to increase all the non-authenticity terms in the equation.

    I’d note that the inner conflict will be a huge source of pain.

    This is true for me, but you’ll notice that I have to make some distinctions between what you consider to be self-integrity and what I do. I can either charge those differences to the differences in our respective definitions, or I can simply say that the amount of pain from inauthenticity differs slightly. I’m more inclined to put the difference in the definitions, but regardless I’m not convinced that this pain is huge for everyone. Is this supposed to be true by definition? Is inauthenticity necessarily something that detracts from satisfaction in a huge way? It could be that people place varying degrees of importance on authenticity. There are two factors here: the amount of importance you place on authenticity, and the amount of actual inauthenticity. Either one of these factors could be small. If someone’s true self is only slightly unacceptable to their surrounding community, then the amount of inauthenticity required to remain in the community is small, and the satisfaction does not take a huge hit. If the amount of inauthenticity is large, but the person doesn’t care that much, then satisfaction doesn’t take a huge hit.

    I guess I’m still trying to make sense of what authenticity means. Is authenticity a synonym for personal integrity, or something broader? If there is room for someone to include hypocrisy in their authenticity, then certainly there would be room to include relationships, community, etc. in their authenticity as well, right? That seems to allow for the possibility that lying through a temple recommend interview could still be authentic to someone.

    It’s just that….how do I say it…if you have one piece of rotten meat in a dish…it’s hard to say, “Oh, I’ll just remove this one piece and eat the rest.” No matter if the rest of the dish is good, I lose my appetite.

    We hear this metaphor in church a lot to describe how we should avoid unclean sources of entertainment, or how important it is to keep ourselves completely clean from every kind of sin. It’s a binary viewpoint, not completely useless, but at best it oversimplifies.

  13. Sofal:

    This assumes that 1) your true self is acceptable to your surrounding community, and 2) you’re able to convey your true self effectively to others.

    Cue analogy with pedophiles and murderers?

    No, I don’t see why 2 would be problematic. Since what we are saying is…you’re just living authentically. So, “extreme adeptness at communication” is simply a long-run average of, say, your actions.

    Is inauthenticity necessarily something that detracts from satisfaction in a huge way? It could be that people place varying degrees of importance on authenticity. There are two factors here: the amount of importance you place on authenticity, and the amount of actual inauthenticity. Either one of these factors could be small. If someone’s true self is only slightly unacceptable to their surrounding community, then the amount of inauthenticity required to remain in the community is small, and the satisfaction does not take a huge hit.

    Here is where I’m conflicted too. I could see it as going either way.

    Let’s take a “Middle Way Mormon example.”

    Someone decides to do whatever image management he can to appear to be a believing Mormon that can be worthy for the temple. Now, is this inauthentic? If so, does he simply weigh the pain of inauthenticity with the satisfaction of being a part of a community? (This is the amount of importance placed in inauthenticity interpretation…in this case, the amount of importance is not as much as the importance placed on the relationships.)

    OR…

    Let’s say that the person conducting image management does not consider this inauthentic at all. Rather, satisfaction with family/community is *part* of what he views to be authentic, so he really has little/no inauthenticity hit, since his image with friends/family/community *is* what he feels is part of his authenticity. In this case, this would reflect the *amount of inauthenticity* interpretation, where that amount quite simply isn’t that much.

    I guess I’m still trying to make sense of what authenticity means. Is authenticity a synonym for personal integrity, or something broader? If there is room for someone to include hypocrisy in their authenticity, then certainly there would be room to include relationships, community, etc. in their authenticity as well, right? That seems to allow for the possibility that lying through a temple recommend interview could still be authentic to someone.

    When I was originally trying to think it through, I think I meant to include the possibility that lying through a temple recommend interview could still be authentic to someone. After all, there are *plenty* of middle way Mormons who do not face such crushing misery. But what I was thinking is that this authenticity requires a reevaluation of things like personal integrity and honesty. Middle way Mormons have often described things in terms of “creative honesty” or “word parsing” (oh gosh, if Ray sees this, he’s going to smash me). In this case, they sidestep my criticism of lack of personal integrity…because in their minds (which is what counts), they truly believe they are being 100% honest with the words that they say…if the other party (e.g., the bishop) takes an interpretation that does not follow…that is not the individual’s fault.

    In this case, I think that authenticity is one. Middle way Mormons or Middle way anyone-elses who conduct image management probably do not think that image management is inauthentic. They probably do not think that it is *self* deceptive. Rather, I would think that they are comfortable with the role of image management to the self — it is something that is part of their self integrity.

    We hear this metaphor in church a lot to describe how we should avoid unclean sources of entertainment, or how important it is to keep ourselves completely clean from every kind of sin. It’s a binary viewpoint, not completely useless, but at best it oversimplifies.

    Now hold on. I’d like to defend myself here.

    The church’s metaphor is to prescribe a kind of ethical behavior. “how we *should* avoid unclean sources of entertainment.”

    I’m not describing an ethical behavior. I’m describing a positive (what is), rather than normative (what should be) behavior. Human biology *is* to avoid disgusting things. Even if the disgusting nature is only a small part of the overall dish.

    furthermore, the church describes the kinds of things that should be considered unclean, evil, etc., Whereas, I do not. I don’t say, “If you feel x, y, z, it is of Satan. But if you feel a, b, c, it is of the Spirit.”

    So I don’t think I’m describing a binary viewpoint at all. I’m not defining, a, b, c, x, y, or z. I’m not even pointing out what you should necessarily do when you encounter any one of these things that you happen to face a huge negative reaction to. I just think that, positively speaking, you will find it difficult to do some actions (e.g., continue eating) with respect to the rest.

  14. Sofal permalink

    So, “extreme adeptness at communication” is simply a long-run average of, say, your actions.

    Actually I’m pretty sure that even extreme adeptness at communication wouldn’t cut it. Idealistically people would eventually learn who you are through your actions or your words, but this often doesn’t happen in practice. Most people only see part of the story. Some people will only know you for a short while (maybe even a few minutes or a few seconds) before they make a decision about you based on this first-and-only impression that directly impacts your future. They’ve never heard of you, and unless you are able to communicate who you are or they are able to detect who you are, you’re going to lose. You will have rumors, lies, stereotypes, and prejudices to overcome. There may be personal facts about you that reasonable people will likely misinterpret or take out of context. It makes sense to keep these things private, since revealing them would almost inevitably result in a kind of deception. Often you won’t even realize that you’re being observed and judged until it’s too late. All it takes is the wrong person to stumble upon something you’ve said or done and draw conclusions. Some people can’t handle the truth. How can you tell whether they can handle it? It starts to get hard to see where to draw the line.

    “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” – Cardinal Richelieu

    As far as the rotten-meat metaphor goes, my main quibble was with the binary idea that you either have personal integrity or you don’t. The integrity-destroying reaction to attending the temple just seemed a bit strong to me. Maybe it gets stronger the longer you’re away. Surely there is something you do that only nibbles at your integrity? It makes you feel bad, but not like “omg there’s a cockroach in my ice cream.” 😉

  15. Sofal, I guess you’d just have to give me a scenario…since I don’t quite think I’m even on the same wavelength as you are as to the first part of your latest comment.

    As far as the rotten-meat metaphor goes, my main quibble was with the binary idea that you either have personal integrity or you don’t. The integrity-destroying reaction to attending the temple just seemed a bit strong to me. Maybe it gets stronger the longer you’re away. Surely there is something you do that only nibbles at your integrity? It makes you feel bad, but not like “omg there’s a cockroach in my ice cream.”

    No, I’m certain that there are things that “only nibble at my integrity.” I’m no saint. But as to matters like this (the temple recommend), I take it very seriously. Or for a different example, if, say, I pull a practical joke on someone, I feel incredibly guilty and have to apologize immediately.

    But I wouldn’t say that’s the case for everything. After all, in the vast majority of instances, I simply *do not* apologize. I simply do not care enough. It doesn’t eat at me. It’s just these few instances which are so pronounced that I MUST describe them in some of the strongest terms I know.

    So, I don’t mean to say that, “You either have personal integrity or you don’t.” But I think that, surely, there are some non-negotiables. Whatever those are.

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