« Blogging the holiday | Main | The Apocalyptic Jesus »

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

This is exactly why I find the NOM label so assinine.

Yup.

Dave, I love this. Thanks. A former member once ridiculed me for being a "cafeteria" member of the Church. His argument was that anyone who tried to reconcile discrepancies or wade through ambiguities was not being totally honest and should just leave. I disagreed then, and still disagree. I embrace my middle-wayedness. (Is that a word?) And agree that we are all in it together.

Anyhow, my only difficulty with this concept is that I think most members I know would reject the label itself as somehow pejorative. Maybe someone could come up with a better name, with more mass appeal?

Good stuff Dave. I agree.

I don't even see this in terms of "ways" as if it's one or the other. I see Mormonism in terms of a series of spectrums. We all fall into various degrees of "Mormonism" and on multiple levels.

DMI Dave rules.

I guess it's time to cover this esoteric and marginal doctrine called "Free Agency." It says that we are free to make choices, and that we are responsible for the consequences of those choices. I suspect some of you have heard it mentioned in hushed whispers in the hall at a Sunstone symposium.

Everybody chooses their path. Generally, they choose the best they can, accounting for human frailty and windage. Even the wing-nuts on either edge of the spectrum are walking their chosen path, and are trying their best to do the right thing. It's that Free Agency creeping in. You just can't avoid it.

Thanks for the comment, Blain. Having the power to choose is not the end of the discussion here. There's also the question of what choices are available.

There are some, I think, who dislike middle choices and want to push Mormons into an either/or choice: either you're 100% in or you're out. They affirm choice but deny any middle path. I think that approach is not what senior LDS leaders have put forth. They want to keep the 90 percenters and the 70 percenters and even the 20 percenters in the Church. Then there's the related point that I made rather indirectly, that most active LDS are probably 90 percenters or 80 percenters without even realizing they are cutting a few corners.

They want to keep the 90 percenters and the 70 percenters and the 20 percenters, yes -- but they want them all to move toward becoming 100 percenters. I think it's those "middle-way" or "cafeteria" Mormons who try to define 20 percent as the new 100 percent who come across as "not authentically Mormon."

I've seen a reaction like this once before.

This is a bit coy, I think. I don't think people are saying you're either 100% in or 100% out, or even that there is one standard for all issues, doctrines, and practices that determines what the orthodox, "TBM" is.

So, people do not use Cafeteria Mormon, NOM, Middle Way Mormon, etc., in such a sense as those who differentiate in such slight ways.

Rather, Middle Way Mormonism is a way to try to address issues, doctrines, and practices that seem reasonably established as "deal makers" and "deal breakers." People may quibble about what a Mormon is, but at some point, even the most liberal definer of Mormonism would say that there's a point when you're no longer describing a Mormon.

The question is...how close do we get to a line? When does the distinction become meaningful...for example, if we have a full head of hair, and we pluck one hair, we could say "awww, he's in the "middle way" between bald and full hair." But that's not when we make the distinction...on the other hand, at some point (40%? 50%? Who knows?) we say, "Whoa, you're losing your hair." And at some point (80% hair loss? 90%? Who knows?) we say, "Wow, you're bald!"

So, the question is, is there such a meaningful distinction for Mormonism? Do we just have "Mormon Mormon Mormon Mormon Mormon NON-MORMON!"?

No, I think the issue is that we realize a point when we are conflicted. When perhaps we culturally identify as Mormon and want to maintain those appearances for family, friends, and others, but we have too many "deal breakers" in beliefs (e.g., we have to come up with elaborate schemes to answer the temple recommend interviews and nab a recommend.)

Even if the leaders want to keep, say, 20%ers, they distinguish between 20%ers and 70%ers. The 20%ers don't get recommends or face other official or unofficial sanctions. The 20%ers realize this...they realize there is something crucially different between themselves and the 70%ers.

The difference I see between myself and those of my acquaintance who choose the NOM label is that when I make "cafeteria choices," I do in through prayer and humility, asking the Lord what I should be doing that day.

My NOM friends rely on common-sense and logic in making such decisions.

Functionally, yes, it means that our behavior may look similar from the outside. But the motivation has long-term consequences.

Can someone please explain this percentage scale y'all are talking about? 90% of what? 70% of what?

Here's one view of mid-way Mormons or cultural Mormons:

Rev. 3: 15-16

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

we have to come up with elaborate schemes to answer the temple recommend interviews and nab a recommend

What's so elaborate about answering the questions? It's not the bishop's job to demand corroborating evidence and thus no scheming is required.

Nice post, Dave. Thanks.

Dave:

Nice chrystallization of this concept. I got some very interesting responses to a similar framing a while back:

members who retain their faith/belief often do so by taking a nuanced view of Church life and policy — seeing many aspects of how culture or policy apply to real life situations as falling into a gray area that their flexible faith is able to accommodate.

I was surprised by some of the comments and thought that some of the commenters raised some good points even though they were different than the way I look at things.

I liked the article and the comments.

I've heard it explained that free agency requires 1. Choices Available 2. Awareness of the choices and their consequences 3. The Freedom to choose. We also hear often that we should study things out in our own minds and get our own witness.

The paradox is that we are also supposed to check our witness against what the church leaders say, and favor their counsel over the counsel of the Spirit to us.

When you're talking with God, it's a good idea to have something to check it against, but this sets up a paradox. Trusting the Spirit as it speaks to you vs. trusting the bretheren is a tension between the rolls of authority and agency.

Anthony, my view that we are all middle-path Mormons is a nice corrective to the habitual use of the scripoture you quoted. My point is that we're all lukewarm.

Andrew, thanks for the detailed comment. The problem is with defining "deal-breakers." Are we talking about objective acts that may trigger the termination of one's membership, like being convicted of committing a felony? Yes, there are such objective deal-breakers.

It's the subjective view of this or that doubt or belief as a deal-breaker that I find misplaced. Someone develops warm and tender feelings for Heavenly Mother and, because there is no formal role for Her in present LDS theology, this becomes a deal-breaker for that person. Why? Who cares if you say your private prayers to HM as long as you don't flaunt it by addressing the public invocation at Sacrament Meeting to HM?

Book of Mormon historicity is a commonly cited subjective deal-breaker for those who come to doubt historicity. But Elder Holland is on record as stating the Church wants to keep such people. Bishops don't ex people because they have doubts. Doubt (or, as you put it, being conflicted) is not a deal-breaker. That only becomes an issue when a doubter starts hassling their fellow ward members. Yes, hassling the beliefs of others can become an objective deal-breaker.

I think it is the form of the deconversion narrative that requires explicit identification of a subjective deal-breaker. It becomes the focus of the story you tell about yourself. But that does not mean it corresponds with objective events in the real world. Just because you tell yourself a subjective deal-breaker story doesn't mean there was an objective deal-breaker vis-a-vis one's church membership.

[And when I'm using "you" in the last paragraph, I don't mean "you, Andrew," I just mean any person who is experiencing a subjective deal-breaker episode.]

What's so elaborate about answering the questions? It's not the bishop's job to demand corroborating evidence and thus no scheming is required.

Aside from either lying or redefining the terms used in the question contra to their on-the-face intent so you can answer correctly (in other words, lying).

"Can someone please explain this percentage scale y'all are talking about? 90% of what? 70% of what?"

The percentages apply to Church standards. Thus a 20% Mormon pays tithing on 20% of income, is honest and keeps the word of wisdom 20% of the time, and believes there is a 20% likelihood that the teachings of the Church are true. They should not receive a recommend.

90% LDS pay tithing on 90% of income, believe in 90% of correlated teachings, and keep the word of wisdom and are honest 90% of the time. They definitely should receive a recommend.

It seems a bit Orwellian to declare that all believe the same thing and live their beliefs the same way, all flattened into "middle-way" whatevers.

re: Peter LLC

It's not the bishop's job to gain corroborating evidence, but it's a social reality anyway that this happens unofficially (whether by the bishop or other members). The member will either hide his heterodox views and suffer within himself or -- somewhere down the line -- will expose his heterodox views and face unofficial or official stigma.

re: Dave

"Who cares if you say your private prayers to HM as long as you don't flaunt it by addressing the public invocation at Sacrament Meeting to HM?"

The believer in HM certainly cares. The believer in HM certainly cares that s/he is living an inauthentic belief in the church. It is a deep tension that dissatisfies. At home, s/he acknowledges and fully sustains the Heavenly Mother. In church, s/he feels like s/he must hide her/himself (argh pronouns!) and her true beliefs.

So she is alienated from her fellow believers. Even though she uses the same language as they do (to maintain the appearances), she feels the disconnect and alienation. Because when she talks about God, she means a God that has a wife who is Heavenly Mother. Yet she knows that others would not anticipate and understand this, and if they did, their relationship with her (and her heterodox beliefs) would change drastically.

Notice how you don't argue that there are no deal breakers. Rather, you simply disagree about what the deal-breakers are. This is fine. The particulars are not important so much as there *are* deal-breakers and there are people who must straddle around them. It's fine if doubt itself isn't the deal-breaker...but please note that you do set an alternative one. Instead, "hassling other members" (whatever that entails) is it. "Flaunting in public" is it. And so on. Does that make sense?

Thanks for your comments, Andrew. I think that if you enthrone autonomy and authenticity to the exclusion of any other consideration or virtue, yes, such a person will have difficulty participating in (feeling fellowship with) any congregation or denomination. Such a person will likely perceive their quest for full autonomy as a deal-breaker.

Being part of a religious community, like being part of any community, requires some denial of self in the interest of fostering a community around a set of shared beliefs and values. Much of the New Testament after the gospels relates the difficulties of early Saints in forming and maintaining such communities, composed as they were of believers from diverse backgrounds. But there was plainly an imperative that such communities should be formed and that individual believers should work out how to get along with each other as members of the household of faith (to use one Paul's phrases).

I guess in a roundabout way I am agreeing with you -- personal autonomy and authenticity, taken to an extreme, can become subjective deal-breakers for those approaching life that way, and objective deal-breakers if they become too obnoxious while putting into practice their self-centered view of how the world works. But I don't see that as a praiseworthy outcome for the individual, whatever label you put on it.

I'm guessing you are just pursuing this position for the sake of argument. If you have held a job for more than three months (i.e., you can get along with a supervisor and coworkers) or been on a team for a full season (i.e., you can get along with a coach and teammates), you have what it takes to be a happy and fulfilled member of a congregation, hopefully an LDS congregation.

It's not necessarily that people enthrone autonomy and authenticity to the exclusion of any other consideration of virtue. No, it's that they must weigh all of these virtues (autonomy vs. shared belief, community, etc.,) together. This is the conundrum.

If someone does weigh autonomy over, say, relationship-building, religious community, and so forth, then their easy solution is to leave the religious community. Authenticity for them would not be found in the relationships and the community (at least, not the community they are in), so it would make sense to leave. This is probably what distinguishes ex-Mormons and former Mormons from new order Mormons. (The "message" of ex-Mormons, is that we affirm that it "makes sense" for us to leave. We are challenging and rejecting, always, the counterassertions that certain others will make...they will say we were "putting into practice a self-centered view of how the world works" which is "not seen as praiseworthy." So, the fault will still be put on us and the group will continue to haunt us even after we've left.)

But NOMs/middle way Mormons/whatever recognize that they have families that would be jeopardized if they left (and they don't want to jeopardize), they do have friends, a community, etc., that they do not want to sacrifice. So, I think that NOM/Middle Way Mormons/etc., stay because it would be a dealbreaker for them to reject the community and family. To just abandon the church would be inauthentic to them, no matter how much they want autonomy. So, authenticity isn't so clearcut as leaving the group.

I think that everyone indeed must weigh autonomy with community identity. The problem is that for different people, at different times, the two are at different ratio.

Let me try to address your final paragraph. I fear I won't really communicate my point though, if you think I am "just pursuing this position for the sake of argument." I guess I take responsibility for my poor ability to communicate.

Let's say you hold a job for a significant amount of time. This does not mean you're a happy and fulfilled member of that job. This does not mean you have what it takes to be a happy and fulfilled member of that job. This just means that you're very good at navigating the requirements needed to get along with supervisor and coworkers to be seen as a worker worth keeping. But we KNOW of plenty of stories: you very obviously can be miserable while doing this. You very obviously can dread your job, hate your coworkers, hate your boss. You know, however, that you can't show this to them, or this will threaten your community relationships (and thus, your livelihood...and you have bills to pay!)

In the work world, we recognize three groups. We recognize those who are satisfied and happy...because their autonomy does not conflict with their community relationships (they work because they want to work; work is enjoyable. So they would use their autonomy freely to work there.) We recognize that those who are dissatisfied and unhappy and for whom the community relationships are not sufficiently important will leave the job. They will not be seen negatively in this: we RECOGNIZE that one job does not fit all.

But what about the people in the middle? People who are deeply dissatisfied and unhappy, but who must maintain community relationships for livelihood, for wage, for sustenance? This middle way, wherever it is found (probably in the job...paying bills is a pretty compelling virtue in the entire calculation), is a deeply lamentable position. It is not "happiness and fulfillment" no matter how well they put up a smile with their boss and coworkers to appear happy and fulfilled (so they can keep their job). This is not an enviable position at all.

Thanks for responding to my blog post! I do want to point out that the purpose of my original post was to address whether one can be comfortably culturally or Middle-way Mormon, and not just whether Middle-way Mormons exist. There is a ginormous spectrum on Middle-way-ness: New-Order Mormons are pretty different from cafeteria Mormons, for example.

In response to Andrew S, you said:

Being part of a religious community, like being part of any community, requires some denial of self in the interest of fostering a community around a set of shared beliefs and values. Much of the New Testament after the gospels relates the difficulties of early Saints in forming and maintaining such communities, composed as they were of believers from diverse backgrounds. But there was plainly an imperative that such communities should be formed and that individual believers should work out how to get along with each other as members of the household of faith (to use one Paul's phrases).

I guess in a roundabout way I am agreeing with you -- personal autonomy and authenticity, taken to an extreme, can become subjective deal-breakers for those approaching life that way, and objective deal-breakers if they become too obnoxious while putting into practice their self-centered view of how the world works. But I don't see that as a praiseworthy outcome for the individual, whatever label you put on it.

I would like to particularly respond to that last sentence that I highlighted. I do think that some people have much better, more praiseworthy outcomes for leaving what is (for them) a toxic environment in the Church. And I am not just talking about theoretically issues with doctrinal or historical fact; I mean things that actually affect their day-to-day life and happiness.

Say you (and by you I mean the rhetorical you) marry a spouse in the temple who turns out to be abusive. Is the outcome of staying with that spouse for the sake of the marriage always less praiseworthy than leaving them? Is it always better to stick with something "for the sake of the team," even at high cost? I don't think so. I think everyone needs to determine the cost:benefit ratio for themselves. That ratio is going to vary from one person to the next, and is highly subjective. But I do think that it is a little presumptuous to assume that because someone leaves the team, that means they will have an "unpraiseworthy outcome".

Thanks for the comments, MC. The phrase you highlighted was my way of rejecting the idea that leaving one's congregation or community to pursue full autonomy and authenticity represents some enlightened path: "So long, simpletons, I'm moving up to Stage 4" says the ex-whatever. I don't see that as a valid description of what is happening. (I won't use the word psychobabble, but someone else might.)

In saying such an exit is not praiseworthy, I'm also not condemning it. I'm trying to portray it as neutral, just a choice people make. It is not a choice I would recommend -- I would encourage such a person to be patient and work out their troubles or concerns. But if they exit because they are not patient, or they spend months or years trying to work things out and can't ("Help! I'm still in a toxic environment and must escape!"), I would never condemn their choice to exit. That's just what some people choose to do.

Dave:

I'm not saying, by the way, that leaving one's congregation represents some enlightened path either. It is only enlightened to the extent that it bring the individual peace, fulfillment, integrity to self. This is subjective. Obviously, the many members of the church who have strong faiths *are* fulfilled by the church. They *do* find integrity within the church. So how could we say that one path is more enlightened than the other?

As much as you bristle at "So long, simpletons, I'm moving up to Stage 4," I bristle back at, "Oh, so you sinners just couldn't handle the truth and are running away from God to try to be unaccountable for your actions."

Interesting post. You and I must have been on the same page. I just posted with some numberical evidence that most of the Mormons are "1/2 way mormons" as you say. The post I wrote is called "1/2 of the Mormons believe there is more than one way to interpret their religion."

I personally think there is a lot more flexibility that God allows us than we think. He doesn't want us all to be cookie cutter "mormons".

Feel free to swing by and share your thoughts.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Now Reading

DMI Facebook Feed

T&S Notes From All Over

Blog powered by Typepad

General Books 09-12

General Books 06-08

General Books 04-05

About This Site

Mormon Books 2013-14

Mormon Books 2012

Science Books

Bible Books

Mormon Books 09-11

Mormon Books 2008

Mormon Books 2007

Mormon Books 2006

Mormon Books 2005

Religion Books 09-12

Religion Books 2008

Religion Books 2004-07