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Exmormon Tropes: Nothing uniquely good

January 4, 2015

For some time now, I’ve seen a recurring trope from many disaffected Mormons. In any discussion about Mormonism that shifts from the discussion of factual accuracy to a discussion of moral good, utility, or practical value (which seems to happen more often because of the shift to pastoral apologetics), someone inevitably will come in and point out that whatever good Mormonism has doesn’t count because it’s not unique.

I’ve seen this often, but I haven’t thought to catalog the mentions. However, here are a couple of statements I’ve seen from recent discussions (emphasis added by me):

…Now if you want to make an argument that there are important spiritual concepts, I will not argue (I will say though that there is nothing original in even the spiritual themes). However I must insist that you quit claiming things that are just not true. It is dishonest to make an argument “The BoM has not been scientifically disproven”.

Or this:

1. If it works for you, great, I would hope however you don’t harm others by supporting Mormonism.

2. Mormons do not have a monopoly on truth. The same truths, even greater truths in many areas, can be gained elsewhere.

3. Mormonism, in my opinion, still promotes sexism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, anti-feminism, critical thinking, being judgmental, anti-science, cultural and personal elitism, prosperity gospel, excusing or justifying racism, and a host of other problems contributing to the social pain and problems we see in the world today.

Therefore, for me, I see the value in Mormonism as not being unique, and there are too many problems with it for me to feel compelled to be a part of it.

But if it works for you, great.

I don’t know where this trope originated, but I recall someone (maybe it was Mormon Expression’s John Larsen?) stating it most pithily in this way (sorry for the paraphrase): everything good about Mormonism is not unique, and everything unique about Mormonism is not good.

This trope doesn’t make sense to me, though.

I don’t understand why people are so fixated on unique good. I imagine that they are pointing out that they do not have to stay within the church for the good aspects, but I don’t think that pastoral apologists would disagree with that. To the contrary, pastoral apologist types seem to be most willing to recognize that the goods and truths of religions may be shared among most, if not all religious traditions in some way, shape, or fashion. However, what I do see pastoral apologist folks saying is that there is reason to stick with Mormonism because we are already here. We already have family here; we already speak the language; we already know the myths.

Why would we expect originality or uniqueness in goods? If there are universal truths about living life, then wouldn’t we expect them to be the same wherever they appear? The same should follow for the more basic fact truth claims — although people may be in dispute about the evidence or there may be critical evidence not yet discovered, when all is said and done, the truth about factual claims should not be unique, because it is simply what is is.

Some folks (like the second person I quoted above) explicitly way the non-uniqueness of LDS goods against the moral ills they also perceive in Mormonism. In the pithy doublet, the non-unique good is contrasted explicitly with the “unique bad.”

But does Mormonism really have unique bads?

In the second person’s quote, the commenter notes that Mormonism still promotes sexism, homophobia, and a host of anti- thinking. I don’t really disagree with these items, but the thing that strikes me is how none of these items are unique to Mormonism. I mean, you can take some, if not all, of these items and apply them to other religious groups. Heck, you can take some, if not all, of these items and find ample evidence of them in organized atheist or skeptical communities…

So, why does the non-uniqueness of the ills matter?

I think that some people would try to argue that even if, say, racism is not unique, the particular manifestation of racism in Mormonism is. But if theological flavor creates uniqueness, then why can’t the virtues of Mormonism also benefit from theological flavor?

Ultimately, I think what people want to say is that if they conduct a calculus of virtues minus ills, they come out negative. And I think that can be a valid calculus (especially given that some of the things they might consider virtues, the church would call vices…and some of the things they call moral ills, the church would argue are divinely inspired.)

But I don’t get why uniqueness comes into  this.

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8 Comments
  1. When an exmormon talks about there being no unique good offered by the Mormon church, the reason isn’t that they are focusing on the uniqueness of the good. Full believing Mormons believe their church to be the one and only church led by God on earth and the only one capable of providing all the saving ordinances needed to return to God’s presence. They believe that to leave the church is leaving behind the ability to return to God, the ultimate unique good.

    So when an exmormon says there is nothing unique offered by the Mormon church, they’re ultimately saying that the Mormon church is no more true than any other Christian church and has nothing to offer that you can’t find in other places. The point is that the Mormon church is not needed to lead a good life and for those who still believe in God, it is not the only church that can bring you to God.

    The whole discussion of uniqueness was born out of a need to help people understand what exactly the Mormon church has to offer.

  2. I haven’t really thought long and hard about this but I imagine the reason people care to point out that the good things are not unique is because the Mormon church claims to be the ONLY true church in existence. So the church is making the claim that they are unique because only through them can a person be exalted. This trope is used to point out that the while the church claims to be uniquely qualified to help a person find salvation that its good characteristics are not actually unique.

  3. But typically, this sort of discussion is not something that is had with a traditionally believing Mormon, but with someone who may already question the claim that the church is the “one and only” true church.

    They will probably say things like, “I understand that other Christian churches may have the same thing, but Mormonism is my language and my culture, and my family is already here, so why should I leave?”

  4. Delina,

    Maybe I’ve only been in certain spaces, but I have only seen uniqueness being called into question AFTER someone has already conceded that they no longer believe in the church’s factual claims, no longer believe in its exclusivity, etc., So, it seems strange to make a criticism about non-uniqueness after that point.

  5. Seth R. permalink

    Usually folks like Larsen combine this with the self-serving assertion that nothing bad about atheism is unique to atheism.

    I agree the debate is a bit stupid.

  6. Seth R. permalink

    But Delina, the LDS Church isn’t exactly asserting that it’s goodness, and it’s authorization to perform saving ordinances are the same thing. I think you’re conflating the two.

  7. Seth R. permalink

    As for “everything good about Mormonism is not unique, and everything unique about Mormonism is not good”

    That’s obviously self-serving, one-sided, ideological grandstanding rubbish by people whose resentments are weighing more heavily than their rational faculties.

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