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About Irresistible (Dis)Grace

One of the five central points of Calvinism, “Irresistible Grace,” proposes that, in the grand scheme of things, a person who is one of God’s elect will eventually come to a saving faith. This person might resist individual promptings of the spirit, but God’s grace is, as the saying goes, irresistible, to someone truly elect.

I’m not a Calvinist and I don’t pretend to have irresistible grace. I am a cultural Mormon. I recognize that this is the church of my birth and upraising, and though I do not believe in its tenets, it is the tribe, the culture, the socializing agent to which I am irresistibly drawn. And I notice that I am not alone in this. Perhaps for other churches, it’s easy to set and forget, but not quite so for Mormonism. We are (dis)tinctly Mormon through and through.

Whether within or without the church, whether pondered by the believing Mormon, the nonbelieving ex-Mormon or the never Mormon, plenty might think it strange that someone who has left the church is still so drawn to it. What does it mean to leave the church, but not  leave it alone?

It shouldn’t make sense. Mormonism isn’t a Calvinist faith. It doesn’t follow predeterminism and, in fact, is fairly strongly opposed to such concepts. Our free will should be well, free, right? If we stick to the church, shouldn’t we just choose to believe? But if we choose not to believe, if we choose to (dis)affect, shouldn’t we (dis)perse and (dis)associate?

But what if choice was always overrated?

I think that the idea of our wills as being independent and unconstrained doesn’t play out. We have personalities, we are affected (but not wholly decided) by our environments and upbringings. Every action is situated in an inclination, and we should not forget whatever set of inclinations and (dis)inclinations with which we are strapped as a limiter of choice.

Something as great as a Mormon upbringing becomes a part of you, like the blood that courses through your vein…Could you “choose” to (dis)engage yourself from your own blood? I think the irresistible attachment is as close to an idea of Irresistible (Dis)Grace as we can imagine…

This isn’t about debating, evangelizing or proclaiming truth or falsity. The real questions are…regardless of truth or falsity, why does such an enduring cultural tradition endure when it is so (dis)tant from the spiritual tradition? What does it mean, especially in a tradition that believes you freely choose to be with us or against us? What is the value of this cultural tradition? How far does this reach down?

I want to (dis)till the irresistible (dis)grace of being a (dis)trusted nonbeliever in a (dis)liked minority faith.

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29 Comments
  1. hawkgrrrl permalink

    “The real questions are…regardless of truth or falsity, why does such an enduring cultural tradition endure that is divorced from spiritual matters?” Sorry to chime in on something old, but this is after all your blog’s mantra.

    I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers, and there is an interesting chapter in there about the Culture of Honor that originated in the highlands of Scotland and persists to this day in the deep South and Appalachia. In a Culture of Honor, men are finely attuned to become aggressive over personal insults, and in fact, the expectation of fighting for one’s honor or exacting revenge over matters of honors is so ingrained there is a physiological response in men from these cultures. It’s a culture that might make sense if you are a shepherd defending your honor with a show of hubris, but doesn’t make much sense if you are the son of a Coca-Cola magnate attending a Top Ten school; yet the cultural behavior continues to be passed down along with some very marked linguistic accents.

    Mormonism seems to have its own cultural legacy, some bad, some good, that is hard to separate as cultural vs. doctrinal for those born & bred in the Utah corridor, but is fairly readily identifiable to those of us who are outsiders: persecution complex & isolationism, spiritual determinism (the Calvinism you mention above), tests of loyalty, etc.

    I’m sure I’ll be doing a post on it in the coming month at Mormon Matters. Just thought I’d mention it here since it fits nicely with your post.

  2. I’ll look forward to the post. I think the cultural legacy is the most fascinating part of it all, even if it’s not the part people are supposed to focus on 😀

  3. I like your blog and the post I have read so far a clear and easy to read. I look forward to reading more form you and learning more about your beliefs.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Just tweeted your latest post. @retheauditors

  5. wow, cool! Thanks. Nice site!

  6. Thanks Andrew. I like yours, too. And I like your perspective. The fact you that have one. 🙂
    fm

  7. Okay I’m trying to find a link to email you privately but I can’t find it. I just wanted to share the Sinning Chilie recipe. Or should it be called “Destroyer of Mormon souls”? I am not sure. It contains beer and chocolate and coffee. And it is delicious.

    http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Chili-I-2/Detail.aspx

  8. Well, notreallyalice, I actually haven’t put my email on the site (maybe I should do that).

    But you can contact me at andrewspriggs(at)gmail(dot)com

  9. nktrygg permalink

    well, if many (if not most) Jewish people are agnostic but complete participants in the rituals and traditions of their faith

    then why can’t there be agnostic Mormons too?

    • It goes beyond rituals and traditions. It encompasses major time and financial commitments, would require lying to your kids to send them on expensive missions in order to keep up the facade, lying in temple interviews in order to attend weddings and such. I attempted trying to stay active despite my disaffection, but the constant lying and activity was very difficult to deal with. I don’t think it is quite the same with the modern Jewish community.

    • It’s fair to say that an agnostic Mormon is an oxymoron and an irrelevancy all at the same time.

  10. One of the issues is that one thing Mormons are big on is professing their faith. There are regular testimony-bearing sessions, and the church is geared toward supporting missionary work and so forth.

    So, there is a lot more cognitive dissonance to try to go with the flow while not believing.

    • nktrygg permalink

      I wonder if that peer pressure would be as intense if Mormons weren’t living in primarily Mormon communities.

      It would be a lot harder to resist the flow when the overwhelming majority of people around you are in it.

      Ghettoizing of any group of people reinforces a more limited behaviour and mindset.

      From my own experience, I had a time when I really did only socialize and work with other gay people and found myself staring in horror on the street at a man and woman holding hands because it was so unnatural and different to what I was seeing regularly.

      I intellectually knew there were straight people, but that had lost any real meaning to me.

      I stood there and could almost feel my brain remapping “Oh, right, I’m the minority”

      It was funny then and funnier now to me.

      • Well, as someone who didn’t grow up in Utah or a “primarily Mormon community”, I can say that things just were weirder.

        Basically, the issue is that I lived in two worlds…on Sunday (and during certain other activities during the week), I interacted mostly with Mormons, but on every other day, I didn’t.

        The problem? Even *I* knew that I wasn’t one of “them” (e.g., the non-Mormons). So, I felt like I had to be a good one of “us” even though I didn’t really buy into it.

        Funny story!

        • Andy permalink

          Not sure when you originally posted this, but very engaging. Your comment of not growing up in Utah… my wife didn’t either and she has mentioned more than once the two social worlds she lived in, the chruch one, and the one at school. The two never really did mix since her ward north of Houston was so geographically large very few ward members went to her schools. I on the other hand grew up in a small Utah town where there was virtually no difference between school and church. It seemed that the two were entwined to the point it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began.

          • Thanks for commenting, Andy! Yeah, I think it would be really interesting and different to live in a place where both spheres blend.

    • So you don’t believe conviction comes though exercising faith?

      • I think that “faking it till you make it” can work in some cases, but probably not most.

  11. Jen permalink

    What a great find of a site. I chuckled when I read the title. My parents were converts in the 1970s and I grew up Mormon in the Bible Belt. I agree with another poster, it was strange to be in a state of Mormonism with a handful of other Mormons surrounded by Baptists. But I was very much aware that “we” were differnt and my Mormon friends were different. We were close, we shared community and when my fathter became Bishop of our ward of 200 I thought I that was it. After leaving the Church after high school, I still am drawn to the Mormon community – when my family goes on vacations, I still like to stop in Provo, or sing along with my Mormon friends all of the songs from Primary, particularly enjoying that they do not know my Mormon background.

  12. Interesting blog that you have developed. I too am Mormon. Raised in Church. Graduate of BYU Went on Mission to Australia in the early 70’s. Still practicing temple attending member.

    I saw your info on twitter. Seeking more connections with fellow bloggers. I am sending out an e-mail and just wanted to reach out.

  13. Ericka permalink

    Wow! What a great find (by accident, no less)! Even though; I grew up in The Church, my mothers family joined up early (BE=Before the Exodus), I’ve been through the temple and am a “Member in good standing” (FD: Not actively participating due to mostly health issues), I’ve lately been troubled by cultural vs. spiritual issues, and how they informed my decisions. I look forward to your musings. And thanks.

  14. Ericka,

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  15. I was not raised in the church but I did embrace Mormonism at one point in life. It was a good time. I lived in Chicago with my husband and two children. We had Mormon friends and were often called upon to work for the church, picking tomatoes, performing a play at the Arie Crown Theater, making fruit roll ups and learning to can produce. Being a Mormon was a really fun time.
    But, I could not live with the theology of it. Sometimes I would think, “Sure! I believe in God and Jesus, and Jack and the Beanstalk, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It seemed very much the same. And then I sat in the meeting house with my very best friend, also a new convert, singing, the second line to a well know hymn “and we know we have a mother there too…” We looked at each other and wondered. Neither of us knew that we believed we had a Mother in heaven as well as a Father. Being new converts, we were not yet fed the milk of the gospel. Still, I knew enough to know that Mormon Theology did not make sense.
    I left the church decades past. Still, every now and then my daughter, now grown, will say, “I wish we could be Mormon again.” And I’ll say, “Me too.”

  16. Jill permalink

    I haven’t read many posts yet. But the intent of this blog seems to resonate. I grew up in Utah; I am a five generation Mormon. I Went on a mission for the church, married in the Salt Lake Temple and had three children (bic). At 26 I began to question, by the time I was 36 I had turned many pages and was trying to remain questioning and believing; however, the dissonance became too overwhelming. Also, I had come to the realization that I was gay and that so much of my life was a lie. I left the church and my husband and began a brand new chapter of my life. I am now in my fifties, and I am still drawn to, and fascinated, by all things Mormon. I don’t believe in the tenants of the gospel, I have transitioned to a completely happy and fulfilling life outside the walls of Zion but I am fascinated by the culture and I continue to read and relate to so much of what other oxymormons have experienced. Thanks for your blog which seems to define where I am coming from.

  17. CAB permalink

    I am a 5th generation Mormon (related to Joseph Smith), grew up in Provo next to BYU where my father was a professor. I left the church came back, left again. Married in the temple, 6 kids, “righteous priesthood holder” husband” (who was abusive), prayed, studied, fasted, presented at Sunstone several times, on board of Mormon Women’s Forum, held multiple callings, studied more, etc, etc. Until something broke and I couldn’t pretend anymore that the church I loved and hated was profoundly wrong and not saving people, but killing them.
    I finally withdrew membership in my late 40’s after divorcing. But the journey away and healing from all things Mormon seems like a lifelong one. At least I am no longer filled with rage and grief, so there is that.
    I just wish that when I found my way out of the church almost 20 years ago there had been support groups and information and discussions such as are available now–the process would have been a lot less bloody and damaging, I think. I am still recovering from my recovery from Mormonism.
    No, I absolutely cannot “leave the church alone,” I have discovered. And I am making my peace with that, too.

  18. Thanks for commenting, CAB…glad to hear that you have moved through grief and rage, sad that so many have those experiences. I definitely think that leaving is now much less bloody as you say — I am hearing of more and more people who are leaving earlier and earlier.

  19. The permalink

    God damn everyone, get some psychiatric help. What the hell is wrong with you? Seriously, get a hobby, learn how to play a guitar, go take an art lesson or seriously get help you narcissists. I know who you all are and really your just cry babies that cannot deal with primarily yourselves, so you project your issues on a bunch of people whom I know to be pretty good people and that’s pathetic. Wa!wa I got my feelings hurt by some one, I’m so important and so intelligent. Seriously, she’s gone, get over her. Yep I said it. Found your sight on a lark. My aunt and my grandmother were just like all of you, and they died miserable and alone. Ha! ha! And to make matters worse, no one that is Mormon gives a shit about you. Ha ha.

  20. The,

    That comment is a gem.

  21. I randomly ran across your blog today and it’s fascinating to me. I was born into the church, but left completely from the ages of 14-24. I then came back, got married in the temple, and am active today. I’ve accepted that I’ll never fully agree with the church. Many things we will just never see eye to eye. I’ve made peace with my beliefs though, and I no longer search for affirmations from my church.
    I have a great relationship with God, I enjoy learning about my Savior and Heavenly Father, but I still believe “my way”. I’ll always be that person that drinks her coffee every morning, goes to church on Sundays, and shops Sunday afternoons. I’ve very open and honest with my bishop, and choose to not lie to get my temple recommend, and I’ve found a beautiful balance that works for my husband and me.
    I guess that’s part of the reason your blog is so fascinating to me. I relate to so much you say. It’s just interesting that some of us can stay in the church and be okay with not being 110% and why some have to leave. Your blog will definitely help both. Well done. I look forward to reading more.

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