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“I’m afraid this isn’t your religion anymore”

March 10, 2010

It’s so hard to track Seth R down, since he never posts on his own blog but seems to wander the rest of the bloggernacle (or, more often, outer blogness) to rebuke (sternly) elsewhere.

By chance, I saw a post by Daniel at Good Reason responding to Michael R. Ash‘s recent set of columns for Mormon Times. I didn’t really want to get too far into it. Apologetics…eh…not my cup of tea.

But who did I find there as the first commenter? Good ole Seth! And he had, I believe, some poignant food for thought.

You know – there’s a phenomenon with any small town where you have the young people moving out to other places. They always write in to the town newspaper to complain whenever the town wants to put up a new stoplight, or tear down a dilapidated playground, or renovate the school, or whatever else.

Whenever the town wants to do anything to improve the community, the always get a bunch of complaints from “the exiles” about how they have fond memories of that playground – how it occupies a special place in their hearts – and how it has always embodied what is at the heart of the community they knew and loved.

Well, that’s nice and all.

But some people still have to live in that town. And they don’t need any pointers from people who no longer have to live there.

So, thanks for the pointers, but…

I’m afraid this isn’t your religion anymore.

It’s my religion. And I still have to live here. And I don’t need suggestions from you on how to conduct my own beliefs and view of the Book of Mormon.

We’re getting the new stop light. And if you don’t like it, that’s just too damn bad.

I liked this sentiment, but I’ve been chewing it over for a while.

What’s interesting here is how Seth relates this analogy to the church. The ex-mormons are the small town young people who leave the city. New Mormon interpretations or beliefs (such as those espoused by apologists and which Daniel tries to criticize) represent the improvements to the small town — the new stoplight, the renovated school, etc., And when these improvements are suggested and approved, the young people — who have left the town already — cry out that the town they remember and have special memories of must be preserved. It has “always embodied what is at the heart of the community they knew and loved.”

Seth uses this back drop to give his Stern Rebuke (TM) to the ex-Mormons. People who have to live in the town can (and should) do better than to be bogged down from progress by people who don’t have to live in the town. In other words, dear ex-Mos, kindly shut the heck up.

This was a curious analogy, and its conclusion seems reasonable. I thought Daniel’s response was just…sooooo badddd….(no offense Daniel!)

But when I think about it, I think I have a response too. I think Seth’s characterization of the various parties is opportunistic to help his case, but unrealistic of how things actually feel. I will now engage in my own opportunistic framing of things.

For example, consider why the young people are writing back in complaint. They complain that suggested changes and improvements cut at the “heart of what they knew and loved.”

Do you see the problem?

While changes to common LDS interpretations, doctrines, theologies, etc., shift the goalposts of what members (and ex-members) know about Mormonism, it doesn’t necessarily threaten what people loved. It’s tough to imagine someone complaining against reinterpretations for why certain controversial doctrines existed in such a way: “Don’t try to reinterpret polygamy/priesthood ban/BoM geography/whatever the issue is. We just loved those old interpretations so much!”

Another curiosity is how Seth frames the two groups with respect to the town. The young people “no longer have to live there,” while some people, like Seth, still have to live there.

What is this about? This have to live stuff?

There are a few ways I’d go with this.

The plight of many ex/post/former/New Order/Middle way Mormons is of “having” to live in the town, but disliking this fact. Their family (for several generations) has lived in this town, and beside, the town is secluded from any big cities, and there’s limited transportation out. Even when they manage to leave the town (through getting a rare scholarship to an outside school, or an internship outside the town for work), they are never fully out, because they still have the small town mannerisms in the big city. Additionally, their friends and family members still are all staunchly settled in the town. The town’s business reaches out to them even if they do not currently live in the town. So, it’s not the case that one group “doesn’t have to live there” anymore and one still does. The group of expatriates or “exiles”, so to speak, are not completely divorced.

The second issue is…this makes it sound like members are resigned to Mormonism. Is it true that Seth feels like he “has” to live in the Mormon town? And ex-Mormons, on the other hand, do not “have” to live there? What a curious thing to say!

Seth frames new interpretations, reclassifications (that’s not official; that’s folk doctrine) as being improvements. They are “the new stoplight.” If you oppose them, you oppose the progress of the town (which is an attack on the people who “have” to live there.)

But I do not think this is what the town’s expatriates are thinking. Really, I’m thinking they feel that the townspeople are supporting a controversial, and possibly detrimental improvement. They aren’t opposing the renovation of the school because the “old school just meant so much and was lovable,” but rather because the firm hired to do renovations has a terrible track record and these expats perceive that the renovation will actually make the school less safe than it was, less functional than it was, etc.,

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  1. Seth R’s response of “I still have to live here. . . .We’re getting the new stop light. And if you don’t like it, that’s just too damn bad” sounds to me like something I would expect more from the Shadow Mormons or the New Order Mormons who want to find some sort of middle way in Mormonism.

  2. Exactly, Mister Curie! That’s why I had to chew through this analogy a few more times.

    Of course, then again, I guess Seth doesn’t exactly sound like a TBM to me either. Then again, he doesn’t sound quite like a NOM either.

  3. Carson N permalink

    I saw Seth’s comment as saying something more like, “So what if we’re changing the doctrines. What’s it to you?”

    Back pedaling on “folk doctrine” doesn’t seem to hurt anybody, and in fact most NOMs are for it in many cases. I think Daniel was trying to make a point that the back pedaling is inconsistent with the church’s exclusive truth and revelation claims. Seth basically asks Daniel, “why do you care?” I think that’s a fair question.

  4. You didn’t like my response? I thought it was badass!

    Anyway, I also thought it was weird that he felt he had to live there. No one really does. The ticket out is simply to change one’s thinking (a bit radically, I admit).

  5. Carson:

    OK, I didn’t quite see it this way at first.

    I’d think that back pedaling causes other damages. Namely, one of the most damaging things to many ex-mormons was finding out the other versions of stories and being surprised. Back pedaling, white washing, correlating seems to set people up — in a bad way. i could see how this is inconsistent with the church’s claims, but I think the, “Why do you care?” question is answerable with something like, “Because I was there and I don’t want to see others have to go there because of misinformation.”

    And then we can cue the discussion about “misinformation.”


    “You can move to a town called Reality”? “We have science here”? REALLY? Snippy much?

    Also, the response didn’t address his original analogy. Seth is saying, “We are trying to get the new stop light (implication: they recognize something is wrong with the old stop light.)”

    Your response, “You don’t have to keep pretending the wiring/plumbing/{“stop light”) still work.”

    Obviously, apologetics is an attempt at fixing things that “don’t work.” The distinction is that the apologists say that it’s just interpretations that aren’t working (Oh, you misinterpreted that this was a doctrine instead of folklore). You’re saying the entire system doesn’t work.

    When applied to the town model, it’s not flattering to your position. Seth’s position is a hardy, put-your-shoulder-to-the-wheel to fix the community position. Yours sounds like what every political party who loses says, “Oh, this country is going down the drains. I’m going to move to Canada!”

  6. Andrew,

    “Knew and loved” probably goes too far, but I think there can be a surprising amount of nostalgia among former Mormons. When a doctrine gets changed or de-emphasized or reinterpreted or whatever, it’s not unusual to hear former Mormons say, “That was the one thing I liked about the church!” or “That was the one thing that made the church different!”

  7. I suppose I could see that, kuri, (especially when it comes to the “mainstreaming” of church doctrines, church manuals, etc.,) but that seems a bit different than what Daniel was trying to hit on

  8. Thanks for this post. Seth’s point is interesting. And it’s one I’ve heard before, the point that you can’t change a community or ask for change in a community without being a part of that community.

    I don’t think that’s a fair request, however. It is a request worth merit, but it’s not always possible.

    Many LDS (for example) are happy to tell other (religious) communities that they are wrong, that they don’t have the truth (through the missionary program). Many are happy to go to other towns and tell those towns what’s wrong with their stoplights and schools (Catholics worship idols, for example is one that I remember hearing).

    Of course, not all LDS are critical of other faiths (or even critical of atheists and agnostics). But many are – the LDS church does (still) claim to be the “only true” church.

  9. aerin, good point!

    Except I don’t think Mormon missionaries seek to change communities or ask for change within communities. Rather, they are trying to subvert those communities by encouraging inhabitants to move to the next town over.

    I think that’s why Daniel’s response doesn’t quite fit Seth’s original. Daniel too seems to be encouraging inhabitants to move to Reality, rather than telling Mormonville what it should and shouldn’t do to improve it’s own borders. The curiosity remains: why does Seth feel like he “has” to live in Mormonville?

  10. That thread was depressing after the first few comments. Apologist Seth is not much fun.

  11. Jack,

    I will say I agree with that. Especially since apologist Seth’s best answers seem to be, “I am highly skeptical of your science and believe you value science entirely too much. Science/history/whatever tool you are using is as fallible as you say that Mormon church is.”

  12. I think that, like most analogies, it’s constructed to be convenient rather than accurate.

    It’s really more like people stop believing in a religion due to criticisms they had with various aspects of it, and continue to similarly criticize it after leaving said religion.

    That’s what it’s like…

    True, it’s not our religion anymore, but what about when it was? The same criticisms weren’t answered effectively, hence the leaving…

    So really, they have a vested interest in hearing external criticism, that way they can revise “folk beliefs” to fit the new version of the revealed truth to keep more believers…

  13. Seriously Andrew, you sometimes make me feel like I’ve got my own minstrel following me around.

  14. you could make this all easier if you’d provide the itinerary first.

  15. Monte python ftw (for the win!)

  16. Or Monty Python. gah.

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