Thoughts for Cultural Mormons by a Cultural Catholic writing about a Cultural Anglican
As I read this blog post, Can you have the bells without the believers, I was amazed at how easy it would have been to read this as being a blog post about/for Mormonism…if only it hadn’t used specifically identifying terms like “Anglican,” “Richard Dawkins,” and “Catholic”. Check out this line:
…being a cultural Catholic or Anglican or member of another tradition requires that there be committed members of the same tradition. Of course, Dawkins is in a slightly different situation, since his aesthetic comfort is state-supported. But, even in that case, and even if he is right that many Anglicans don’t actually believe anymore, when there are no more believers, the churches will be just museums and the sepulchers—as Nietzsche’s madman had it—of the dead God. That is not quite the same thing as a functioning church to which you have a cultural affinity, any more than an altarpiece in a museum is the same thing as an altarpiece in a church. Having been divorced from its purpose, it loses some of its meaning. There’s no contradiction in being a non-believing, though culturally-entwined, member of a tradition. There might be something elitist about it, maybe it causes a tension, maybe it might even be bittersweet.But my point is that being a cultural Anglican or Catholic does place a kind of restriction on one. Since what you love relies on committed others, they deserve respect. You can’t run around with and cross-promote the work of people who claim that religion poisons everything, a la Hitchens; or, that those who pray are no more stable than those who believe God can be contacted by talking into a hair dryer, a la Harris; or, that all religion is a delusion, a la Dennett (and Freud); and, you can’t claim that people ought to lose their jobs because they take their religion seriously, as Dawkins himself has—though that was with a person who believes a religion for which Dawkins has no affinity. …
It reminds me of this Millennial Star post about the secret in the Mormon sauce (warning…Millennial Star post…)
…but as an aside, who knew that Richard Dawkins considered himself a cultural Anglican? I almost feel like all the people who hear the latest things that Pope Francis is saying and think that the Catholic church must be making a heel face turn — while I want to believe this is a big deal, I know that really, it probably is just evidence of my gross ignorance of the subject.
Anyway, the article where Dawkins declares himself thus is from this month, so I’ll take it that it’s a recent revelation.
The interesting conflict for cultural Mormons (and maybe for some cultural Catholics and cultural Anglicans as well, but I don’t know, and the posts about Dawkins don’t really give that impression) is that the relationship is so much more complicated. From Dawkins:
Prof Dawkins admitted he would consider going into a church, and would miss ‘aesthetic elements’ such as church bells if they were gone. And he said he was “grateful” to Anglicanism which he claims has a “benign tolerance” – enabling people to enjoy its traditions without necessarily believing in them.
He told the Spectator: “I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don’t believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy, as I do… I suppose I’m a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green.
“I have a certain love for it.”
I can’t pretend to suggest that cultural Mormons are a monolithic cohort, but if I had to (read: decided to out of efficiency/laziness) refer to them/us as if we were, then I would say that “aesthetic elements” aren’t exactly Mormonism’s strong suit, so, cultural Mormons probably wouldn’t miss the corporate, correlated elements of the church in the 21st century.
And certainly, many cultural Mormons — especially ones who have gone through a disaffection process — will note that Mormonism has nothing of a “benign tolerance” for “people to enjoy its traditions without necessarily believing in them” — so there would be no gratitude there.
In a sense, my being a cultural Mormon is descriptive more than prescriptive. My appreciation for my heritage is a good faith identification with myself — perhaps even a rationalization — rather than an endorsement. I certainly recognize that cultural Mormons, as it were, are “parasites” to orthodox Mormons (don’t know where I originally came across this phrasing, but ctrl+f for “parasite” to see me use it in the discussion here).
that doesn’t necessarily put me in agreement with Tyler’s blog post quoted above. I mean, yes, yes, I think everyone should avoid new atheism because it’s lame, but not necessarily because religion deserves such deference. I appreciate my heritage, but if I had a different one…no skin off my nose.
Looking at Tyler’s final line:
That is, contrary to the program of many New Atheists, if you value what religion has given your society and even want to see it stick around, you can’t deride the people who actually believe it—and create what you like.
What if someone who values what religion has given society (in some limited fashion) isn’t necessarily sold on wanting to see it stick around…or isn’t sold on wanting to see it around in its current fashion (and would suggest changes that would effectively destroy it as it is currently known)?