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Progressive Mormon Tropes: Religions as Citizenship


As with the exmormon trope I discussed in the last post, I have seen a trope from liberal or progressive Mormons (and some pastoral apologists) more and more often. The setup for this trope will usually be the liberal Mormon arguing for why he or she stays in the church. A critic of the church will counter that the church has a variety of moral failings, and thus, remaining as part of the church is complicity with those moral failings. The trope goes something like this (this is an actual quotation of someone using this argument in an online discussion, so I’m not making this up):

One of the things I didn’t get to explore in the post is the fact that this problem of “myth” vs. “reality” is not just a Mormon problem. It’s a human problem.

We are constantly being faced with the reality that things aren’t always what we thought they were. And when that happens, we are faced with a few options: retrench into literalism, abandon our former beliefs completely, or find a middle way that lets go of some (most) of the literalism but still finds value in the symbols.

I think America is a good example. There are plenty of people disgusted by the fact that our country conducted a vast torture program under the banner of “freedom,” which is a value as Americans that we hold dear. We were lied to by our leaders. They manipulated us, and they manipulated the system in order to get the result they wanted.

And yet, I’m not aware of many Americans who are using this as a reason to renounce their citizenship and move to another country. Because we have the ability (in reality, I think it’s more of a human need) to set aside pure, literalistic interpretations of things and “break the myth” of the thing we once valued. It allows us to keep what we treasure while discarding what is unpalatable for us.

As with before, I don’t know where this trope originated, but it also doesn’t make sense to me.  Read more…

Exmormon Tropes: Nothing uniquely good


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.

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Lying for the Lego Lord Business


In case you haven’t read my earlier posts on pastoral apologetics, here’s another chance to see it in action. Over at Rational Faiths, James Patterson has written an article on his realization and subsequent conclusion that Mormonism may be made up…but it’s still true. As he alludes in his post, he had been undergoing a faith crisis for some time, primarily due to LDS.org’s essay on Race and the Priesthood. But what was it that got him out of the crisis? Well, per him, it was the Lego Movie.

Definitely check out his post for more details, since I’m not going to quote everything line-for-line.

I for one am happy that James is at a good place with respect to the church. In some ways, I regret writing each of these articles, because, by and far, the pastoral apologists are the good ones. (Not saying that all non-pastoral apologists aren’t good, but there are definitely worse positions to take.) I am not prima facie opposed to to pastoral apologetics. In fact, as I have said before, I think that if more people had that approach — and if it were supported institutionally, Mormonism would probably be a lot better for a lot of people.

My problem, as I have stated before numerous times, is that I don’t think a lot of Mormons have this approach, and I don’t think it is institutionally supported, so I don’t think a lot of people can make pastoral apologetics work. And I don’t think that pastoral apologists fully appreciate the precariousness or the privilege of the situation they are in when and if they can make it work.

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Mormonism and race in 2014


I was having a conversation with a friend about a few lines from my previous post. (This conversation was in a relatively private location, so I’ll try to keep things anonymous). From my earlier post, I had written:

I think that if Mormons were to candidly have racial conversations, that sort of thinking would possibly come out — that is, if or when people could even admit that there is a racial dimension (rather than merely a “family” dimension). The basic system probably wouldn’t be criticized as unjust.

My friend wanted me to elaborate on what the “basic system” was.

I wrote:

The “basic system” is that criminal justice, meritocracy, etc., are basically “fair” and “accurate” systems. The basic system is that people get where they are, etc., primarily through their own actions.

As of right now, on issues like race (but also orientation, I think), I think a lot of Mormons don’t even recognize that there are some non-chosen aspects in play (e.g., race, orientation). But I think that even if Mormons were to say, “OK, being gay isn’t chosen, and it really does play differently in our social and theological system”…or, on race, “OK, being black isn’t chosen, and it really does play differently in our social system”, they probably wouldn’t say, “Well, our social system needs to be changed.” Rather, they would say, “black people need to be more respectable.” (Or, in the gay example, gay people need to be celibate.)

In 2014, most people wouldn’t say that a righteous black person will become white in the afterlife. But we do commonly see comments about LGBT people being straight, correct gender, having opportunity to marry, etc., in the afterlife, so, I’m not sure if Mormon theology actually really can cope with blackness except as something to be overcome.

The friend asked me if, within a Mormon context, the only way to reframe the underlying assumption (that blackness is to be overcome) would be through revelation.

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Mormonism and respectability politics


Over several past posts, I’ve come to increasingly reconcile and view my upbringing in the Mormon church as an upfront course in black respectability politics. I can contrast the descriptions and rationalizations and excuses made in recent police-involved shootings with the values that my parents and my church have taught me and come up with a few points of difference. I mostly share these points of difference in snark, in jest, in sarcasm (because I am not unaware of the injustices), but maybe a part of me shares these points of difference out of a hope that maybe one can be “respectable” enough. For example:

  1. Since I, as a Mormon, was taught to follow the Word of Wisdom, I would have no need of cigarillos. No cigarillos, and I’m out of that situation.
  2. Since I, as a Mormon, was taught to follow the Word of Wisdom, I would, again, have no need of loosies.

These are straightforward points of difference. But of course, I could synthesize specific implementations from generic principles. For example:

  1. Since I, as a Mormon, was taught to “avoid even the appearance of evil,” I would make sure to dress in ways that would not even seem to be threatening.
  2. Since I, as a Mormon, was taught to “avoid even the appearance of evil,” I would not carry objects in public that would seem to be weapons (regardless of my rights to do so, regardless of whether my state/city is open carry, etc.,)

The education in black respectability is something that I think Mormonism can and does teach well to black members of the church. Unfortunately, as story upon story has come out (and rationalization upon rationalization) has come out, I have realized a few things…about black respectability and about Mormonism.

Firstly, one cannot ever be respectable enough. There will always be someone arguing that the dead guy wasn’t sufficiently respectable. If the police suspected me of having a gun, then someone will argue that “I should have put the gun down, thrown it away from me.” If I did that, then someone else would argue that “I should not have reached for the gun in the first place.”

But I think the lessons about Mormonism (which I have strewn part and piecemeal through other posts on the subject) are more relevant to this blog:

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Describing the world I come from


Over the past few days, I’ve been browsing CollegeConfidential’s College Essays forums, looking for high school seniors to assist. On this forum is etched the ebb and flow of the annual college application season. If you view it now, you will likely (and accurately) guess that is the University of California system’s application deadline. As it approaches, so many students ask for help with UC Prompt 1 or 2.

After critiquing a few essays, I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be fun to write an essay as if I too were applying to the UC system?

So here in this post I will take a look at the UC system freshman application prompt:

Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

I will follow a few rules for myself:

  1. I will limit the essay to 500 words. Students applying to the UC chain have a combined 1000 words to split between two essays. While theoretically, they can split these words however they want, I am only writing one, so I will only use 500.
  2. I am writing as if I were a high school student graduating in spring 2015. As such, I will refer to outside events that occurred after I actually graduated in 2007. However, I will not refer to things I did after I graduated high school if I would not or could not have done them before I graduated.

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Breaking 2 Analogies for More Accepting Mormonism


Over at Clean Cut, Spencer showcased Scott Hales’ strip of the Garden of Enid that expounded on a more accepting Mormonism as being more like an expanding grid than a big tent.

Expanding Grid Mormonism

Per the comic, the big problem with “big tent Mormonism” is that eventually, you do have walls. (I don’t necessarily think this is a problem — many folks criticize liberal Mormons by saying that if the definition of Mormonism isn’t limited, then it is meaningless. But my feeling is that liberal Mormons aren’t saying that Mormonism means anything, but that the current barriers so often perceived or enforced are the incorrect barriers.)

In a similar vein, Spencer addressed in an earlier post an analogy from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin likening the church to an orchestra:

“Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

“The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”

I don’t want to be so cynical on Clean Cut’s blog, so I’ll be cynical here…even if the big tent analogy can be broken, these other two analogies can be broken just the same.

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President Henry B. Eyring at the Vatican Summit on Marriage


Two weeks ago, it was announced that LDS First Counselor of the First Presidency Henry B. Eyring would speak at a colloquium on marriage and the family held by the Vatican. Like some others, I wasn’t inclined to be all that optimistic about this colloquium, as its subject — the complementarity of man and woman in marriage — excludes many folks from the get-go.

Per Pope Francis, this conference is needed because:

“In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

OK. I can theoretically be on board with this (although I suspect that really, what’s happening is that our economic and socio-political reality is evolving, and our ideals about social constructs to support this reality is lagging behind). So, what about President Eyring’s comments? Well, the transcript is now up on the Mormon Newsroom. Read more…

Modal, Model, Mormonism


In the wake of all of the essays being released concerning Joseph Smith’s polygamy, Kristine Haglund has offered a confession and an apology over at By Common Consent.

From the post, it seems there is backstory that I am missing (since I don’t find Kristine to be a particularly offensive or dismissive person), but the basic gist of the apology is this: in the past, she has dismissed certain others who felt betrayed by the church when they found out certain facts about church history. As she puts it:

I have been one of the people who has thought and said that it’s unreasonable for members of the Church to feel betrayed when they discover facts about Church history that they hadn’t encountered in the official curriculum. I’ve thought that such ignorance reflected intellectual laziness for not having done a little bit of homework to learn about our history, and/or emotional immaturity for “flying off the handle” in the face of the belated discovery.

I was wrong and I am sorry.

Having (for once) been smart enough to sit back and watch the reactions to the new essays on polygamy rather than diving into the discussion right away, I think I may have finally understood something that I had managed to miss for a few decades. Despite the Church’s monumental effort and achievement of Correlation, lived Mormonism is largely undomesticated. It changes in both temporal and geographical iteration.

(I think it’s worth pointing out that the response for which Kristine now apologizes — thinking that ignorance reflects intellectual laziness — is alive and well at conservative blogs like Millennial Star. But that is not the point of my post.)

This post is instead about a sentiment that I have been hearing hints of from several liberal or progressive Mormons. I don’t think Kristine carries this sentiment (in fact, a followup comment suggests she doesn’t), but still, here was the part that gave me pause:

We all assume that our experience is normal, and since we so often hear “the Church is the same everywhere you go,” we are quick to generalize from our experience of “normal” to a prescription for what should be normative for everyone. When we are wounded by a policy or its ham-handed implementation, we extrapolate the certain wrongness of the policy for all times and all places. When, on the other hand, the Church has helped us to flourish, we readily believe that all good-hearted and right-thinking Saints will flourish similarly.

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4 Spiritual Practices for An Atheist Ex-Mormon


One of the reasons I often hear/read people give for being religious is that religion gives them opportunities to become better people. In fact, arguendo, religion in some ways demands that we become better people by prioritizing service, community responsibility, and so forth in a theological narrative. No longer is it just something “nice to do”, but it is an obligation. A calling.

And so, even if the factual claims that any religion (but especially Mormonism) preaches don’t necessarily check out, that’s ok because people can say that they have become a better person by being religious.

This argument doesn’t even have to apply to any religion in specific. In more general terms, it can be phrased in terms of maintaining connection with spirituality. (I am reminded of a thought I had a long time ago: it seems like ecumenism can easily become, “Well, we’ll put aside our religious differences, because at least we aren’t atheists.”) From a long conversation online with Dan Wotherspoon (first in the comments to my “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains~!” but then it migrated to the comments of his podcast on negotiating adult faith within a developing institution), there was something in particular that struck me. I was trying to express to Dan (and pastoral apologist types in general) that there are many reasons why many folks don’t necessarily want to stick with the Mormonism — especially if they don’t think it’s true. Dan wrote the following:

…More than anything, I’m not overly stressed when anyone decides to leave Mormonism if they still are open to spiritual journeying and exploring themselves beyond just the sorts of things that our senses and rational minds can work with.

Dan recognizes that leaving Mormonism might not be the end of the world…if an individual is still open to spiritual journeying.

Read more…

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