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Inoculation and Echo Chambers

October 27, 2017


Within online Mormonism, there is frequently a discussion about “spiritual inoculation” — this concept that if the church or informed faithful members could prime other members with enough context about unsavory or surprising elements of history or theology, then those members would be better equipped to handle those elements. Put a bit differently, the idea is that the real issue of faith crisis isn’t necessarily learning unsavory history or theology, but a crisis of trust that one didn’t hear it first from one’s own community (or, perhaps, in fact, the community may have strenuously rejected.)

I was thinking recently about an exercise that I sometimes do online. Sometimes, I will intentionally wade into spaces — blogs, social media accounts, websites, whatever — of people whom I disagree with. It’s good when they present their positions kindly and cautiously, but generally, I will go knowing that it’ll be hostile — perhaps even definitely hostile against me or something about me.

I try to sit in those spaces, feeling the hairs on my neck raise. Feeling the tension in my gut. Feeling my blood pressure rising. And I sit with that and try to get used to it.

I try to understand where the other person is coming from. Not necessarily to agree with it, or even to see if I can disprove it, but just to see that I can understand. Maybe to see if I can come to understand their position enough to restate it in a way they would accept.

But what I really want to do is see if I can distance myself from that gut reaction, just a little bit. So that the next time I encounter that position, maybe the hairs won’t raise quite as high. Maybe my blood pressure won’t rise so much.

I was thinking about being raised in the LDS church. A religion I don’t believe in, with values too white, too heteronormative, too theistic, and too conservative, for me to find a whole lot of common ground. I understand that each of those things has caused profound grief for various people — and I understand and regret that some people crumble under the weight.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that not only have I survived it, but I’ve come through at least a little better of a person. Not in the ways that Mormonism would want me to be, but in a way that I personally feel somewhat bettered by it. I feel that there are some scars that those who have undergone religious or faith crisis will bear, but there’s also a perverse sort of strength that will also be born from the struggle.

I was listening to an episode of Gina Colvin’s A Thoughtful Faith podcast discussing her and other Kiwi Mormon reactions to the ex-Mormon Jacinda Ardern becoming Prime Minister of New Zealand. At some point, the women on the panel lamented the fact that they could see a strong, powerful, role model in Jacinda, but that Mormonism institutionally didn’t support the development of this kind of strength or power.

And I thought about that. I’ve often heard people discuss (and I’ve probably written about this too) the wish that they had a church that really understood them, that got them and that supported them in their spiritual, personal, or interpersonal endeavors. I understand this is why some folks ultimately convert to other religions or denominations in the first place. (And, if I had to admit the posts that have most inspired me to write this, I must acknowledge blog posts by Lynnette at Zelophehad’s Daughters, such as Stepping out of the Big Tent, because of the sheer cautiousness of her crush with Episcopalianism. She too grapples with the question of intentionality in the decision to stay in a religion that doesn’t fit well vs move to one that does.)

And thinking about all of that and more, I thought about this idea that even though my politics are progressive, my upbringing in a conservative religion and in conservative states has forced me to be very intentional about that. Conservatism was the background expectation and everything else was hard-won. For most feminists in Mormonism, I understand too that feminism was hard-won rather than just given.

I read the stories of LGBT folks who had to go through a personal or interpersonal hell inside the church before they could come to a knowledge of their value and worth and goodness.

I can’t say this is how things should be — after all, as I noted before, unfortunately, some people crumble under the weight.

But is there something to having that? To having that counterweight? To having that hard-won intentionality of that struggle?



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