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True Believers and New Order Mormons

July 7, 2012

Times and Seasons’ Rachel Whipple (whom I’m super excited to be meeting at Sunstone later this July) had a post discussing the threat of New order Mormons. I have to admit that the post annoyed me a bit…but it wasn’t really because of Rachel or the post’s content at all. Rather, I was irked by the fact that

  1. The post had over a hundred comments by the time that I got around to seeing it.
  2. This topic is a very broad topic, and there are tons of related issues that often get conflated together.
  3. Without carefully watching the comments, said conflation can happen rather quickly, making the comments unproductive.

As such, I guess what frustrates me most is that there is no way to discuss the post and its discussion in one post, because it’s not just one topic. So, instead, I’ll address just two very different ideas that come up often when people talk about New Order Mormons and are erroneously conflated.

Why do some nonbelievers identify as Mormons?

The first question that comes up with posts on New Order Mormons is generally: why should there have to be such a discussion? Why should there be people in the midst of Mormons identifying as Mormons who nevertheless do not believe? As LovelyLauren summarizes, Mormonism is a religion, so the label should be predicated on belief:

…if you believe nothing about the church anymore, I don’t think you should say that you’re Mormon.

At this point, I feel like I’ve had a lot of posts about cultural Mormonism and Mormonism as an ethnicity — including one questioning the foundation of cultural Mormonism itself (warning, Wheat & Tares appears to be down now, so those links may not all work), so I really do not want to rehash that discussion. But to summarize what I’ve said elsewhere, I simply think that the fact is that Mormonism (for many folks) is far more pervasive than just a religion. Even when someone becomes and “ex-Mormon” or “post-Mormon” or “former Mormon,” they are never a non-Mormon again — the reason is Mormonism is like a language…if you are so immersed in it, it becomes the language in which you think…and even if you may learn another language, learn to think in another language, and even forget everything of your original language, you will always have the capacity to pick up that language again easier because it is deep within you.

So, that’s one question…the second question is, as I mentioned before, very different:

Why do some nonbelievers identify as believing Mormons?

On LovelyLauren’s site, in response to a commenter, Lauren had written:

But at the point you no longer believe, you shouldn’t be able to identify yourself with the believers. It’s an insult to see someone who openly attacks the church call him or herself Mormon and I think it isn’t fair.

So, perhaps this clarifies her earlier statement…it’s not so much about just labeling as a Mormon…but it’s the idea that someone who no longer believes (and may be antagonistic to the church) might identify with the believers. Bruce Nielson at Millennial Star has similarly written a post describing that he’s OK with cultural Mormons, but not if they are deceptive.

I think this question is fair for a discussion on New Order Mormons…I may not be completely informed about the New Order Mormon phenomenon (so perhaps someone can help correct me if I’ve gotten anything wrong), but it seems to me that being a NOM is more than just not believing certain claims of the church…rather, I’ve always understood New Order Mormonism as being this heterodoxy combined with a pressing social situation that makes it inadvisable to be open about this heterodoxy. To avoid upsetting wife or kids, losing friends, or perhaps even being fired from a job, one has to keep up the appearances of being a believing Mormon.

If this gambit goes well, then you shouldn’t even know it. You would see people in your ward who would all look to be believing, faithful members. They would say the right things, do the right things, and because you can’t read minds, you wouldn’t know who’s a cylon. Or a tare. Or whatever metaphor you want to use.

…so why is it that people do know about it? Are these folks just really bad at keeping a secret?

I think the answer is the internet. The internet has allowed many internet communities to spring up based on…basically any interest imaginable…a community for non-believing Mormons to talk about their experiences traversing that mine field isn’t too unlikely a premise. The only problem is that the internet tends to be a lot more public than people seem to account for, and thus now, anyone can see the “New order Mormon agenda,” so to speak.

It seems to me that if believing members want less of this behavior, then they must strive to create a Mormon environment where people aren’t pressured so much to presenting as if they believe. If people didn’t feel like they would be ostracized or shunned for heterodoxy or for complete non-belief, then there wouldn’t be such a need to socially role play as a believer.

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