Could I be a “Practical Mormon Atheist”?
chanson’s latest Sunday in Outer Blogness (which y’all should already be reading every week, of course!) showed me a post I had not seen — Aaron Shafovaloff’s Creed of Practical Mormon Atheism at Mormon Coffee. “Practical Mormon Atheism” is, as chanson summarizes, a reaction to John Dehlin’s curious path within, without, and around Mormonism via things like Mormonism and the “uncorrelated Mormon” movement. chanson answered with her thoughts about the 10 creed principles and sought for others’ answers, and I thought I’d post mine…but it quickly became too long for a mere comment. In this post, I’ll answer with my own thoughts about the items, and my thoughts as to whether the item really actually describes uncorrelated, new order, liberal, or otherwise non-traditionally believing (yet-still-identifying) Mormonism. I understand that these groups are many and diverse, so maybe Aaron is talking about different groups completely.
The grand council of atheist Mormon bishops have met and codified the Creed of Practical Mormon Atheism, a list of things that both atheists and Mormons can largely affirm together:
- Even if Mormonism is false, it is still worth believing and ought not be refuted.
- Faith is ultimately irrational.
- Even if you don’t believe in God, you should still stay on the membership rolls and consider yourself a Mormon.
- If the LDS Church isn’t true, there is no God.
- How you live your life is more important than what you believe.
- I can’t believe in a God who demands worship.
- It doesn’t matter if it’s true. What matters is whether it is official.
- I proudly mentally disassociate from the content and implications of my belief system.
- I know the Church is true. I have no idea what that means.
- There was a conspiracy to fundamentally corrupt the Bible. It is untrustworthy and we look elsewhere for truth.
- Apart from Mormonism, I have no good reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
- The existence of my personhood is not owing to any god.
- Everything is matter and nothing is immaterial.
- There is no ultimate personal being who is the ground of all other being.
- There is no first cause.
- There are impersonal eternal laws that govern everything.
(OK, the numbers are per chanson — Aaron’s post was just bulleted.)
As for my answers…
1) I do not agree with this one, but with many caveats. In the first part, what is the aspect of “Mormonism” that is “false,” and what is the aspect of Mormonism that “is still worth believing and ought not be refuted”?
I think that Aaron is conflating different elements of Mormonism in this statement and thus fails to capture the actual nuance (if you agree with it) or gymnastics (if you don’t) that is happening. I’ll give two options.
- a) For someone who would agree with this statement in spirit, the first part “Even if Mormonism is false” would refer to a statement about the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the literalistic translation accuracy of something like the Book of Abraham. The “it is worth believing,” in contrast, would refer to the life advice of the church. (I guess this is kinda what Aaron is getting at by calling it “Practical Mormon Atheism”.
- b) Perhaps the statement should actually be read: “Even if Mormonism is false, it is still worth practicing/engaging and ought not be refuted.”
…still, in both reformulations, the last part “ought not be refuted” is problematic. If you look at most of the liberal/unorthodox/uncorrelated Mormon groups, you might see that they want to be more subtle or diplomatic about the process — or, for example, they want to “change from within” so they need to build and maintain the legitimacy to do that — but you aren’t going to see uncritical acceptance in most cases. That should be a very noticeable (and frustrating) part for believing members and former members alike — the uncorrelated Mormon still believes in or practices Mormonism…but their conception of what should be believed or practiced is idiosyncratic. I think I’ll get to this point later on as well.
2) I agree with this, but with caveats. Define “faith”. I think people use faith in multiple ways, confusing the definitions as is appropriate for their argument. I also think subjectivity (and other things that might seem outside the bounds of “pure rationality”) aren’t necessarily things to be eschewed or escaped.
3) I think this needs to be a personal evaluation. Personally, I find “staying on the membership rolls” to be of no value either way. I guess some people might say it’s comparable to “being on the membership rolls of the KKK” (if you are trying to distance yourself from that, you should probably be interested in delisting), but I don’t see things that way. In Mormonism, I can think of several reasons might want to stay on the rolls.
I understand people can go through a crucible from leaving the church, and that some folks might prize that experience (heck, even Mormons prize the experience of pioneers and converts who left what they had to join the church — often at great cost)…but to me, I don’t think these sacrifices are necessarily necessary. (wow, I need to come up with a different way of phrasing that.)
…and for more nuance — I think that whether one is on the membership rolls is a separate question from whether one considers him or herself Mormon.
4) First, I’ll just point out that I like chanson’s answer here:
…both are true, but if there’s a logical connection, it goes the other way
However, I’ll point out that I get what Aaron is trying to go for here, chuckle at it, and say that I disagree with this creed as it is formulated. However, I will say that theists need to make the case for whatever deities they propose. If there only work (especially in “witnessing” to Mormons) is to try to show the inadequacy of Mormonism (or the unbiblicality of Mormonism), then they are going to fail hard in getting Mormons to see traditional Christianity as a viable option post-Mormonism.
I’ll also say that for better or for worse, Mormonism does a relatively good job at giving members the impression that other Christian denominations are inadequate. I mean, if a Calvinist wanted to reach out to a Mormon, he would have to jump over the hurdle that the Mormon likely believes the God of Calvinism to be even worse than the Satan of Mormonism. Mormon Satan at the very least had an unlimited “atonement.” Five-point Calvinist God can’t even seem to manage that.
But in general, the toolkit developed to tear Mormonism apart is also formidable against other religions or denominations. That’s not to say that all religions fall if Mormonism falls, but theists have to come up with more compelling approaches if they want to get anywhere.
5) Yes. I understand why some folks might think otherwise, but the idea that what you believe is better than how you live is pretty baffling to me.
6) I chuckle at this one…I get that what Aaron is trying to get at here is that even when the uncorrelated Mormon proposes a god that he/she could believe in, then usually, that God has little to no demands on people — or at least, not any that would really challenge the individual’s own viewpoint.
That being said, for me, I would not agree with it. I just haven’t found such reasons to believe yet, but don’t say it’s not possible.
7) My response here is similar to chanson’s “WTF???”, but I would say that this item really strikes me as being off when describing uncorrelated Mormons. One thing I would say is critical to many uncorrelated Mormons’ engagements with the church in a post-literal belief period is their deconstruction of “officiality.” You simply cannot have some of these other creed statements if this doesn’t happen. (What does it mean to identify as a “Mormon”? If one goes by “official,” then the “practical Mormon atheist” simply couldn’t identify as Mormon. But the PMA can continue to identify as a Mormon precisely because he separates Mormon identity from the institution.)
In fact, emphasizing what is “official” is really something more that TBMS and TB(ex)Ms do. This leader said X, so X is authoritative. For one side, that means one lives by X. For the other side, if X is morally repugnant, then X is the deal breaker. But for the uncorrelated Mormon, one simply disagrees with or de-emphasizes what the leader said and X, and lives around it.
8) I’ll paste in chanson’s response for this one too:
Christian: “I proudly make up anything at all about people I disagree with, no matter how obviously unwarranted”
9) No to the first part, yes to the second. As you might have guessed from my answer to question (1) and question (7), I’m pretty big into the deconstruction. Deconstructing what it means for the “church to be true” is something anyone can doing with just enough catalyst. Still, for me, for all the values of “true” that I feel comfortable is using, I can’t say I believe that to be the case.
10) chanson stated it better than I could:
second half yes, first half not necessary,
11) On a roll with agreeing with chanson’s phrasing here:
yes, except for that initial bit,
But as a critique of uncorrelated Mormonism, I think that this fits the same analysis of (5) [EDIT: this should point to 6, not 5].
12) I don’t have personally compelling reasons to believe otherwise.
13) Who knows?
14) Who knows, but I don’t have personally compelling reasons to believe otherwise.
15) Who knows?
16) Depends on what you’re referring to by laws.
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