Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cultural mormonism

A couple of posts have got me thinking about the hold mormonism has on people long after they stop believing. There are a lot of people who are nominal mormons at best and many more who are lapsed completely. Why do they retain their connection to mormonism when they stopped believing a long time ago?

The first was from Gloria at Musings on Mormonism in her post Religion vs. Relationship with Jesus. The second was from Andrew, a former mormon who retains his cultural ties to mormonism with a post linked to Gloria's called Religion vs. relationship.

What it stems from is the veneer of religiosity. Mormonism does a great job at creating a sense of community that is founded in a belief that they, unlike anyone else, have the "true church" and that they share a common sense of persecution. Ironically, mormon "persecution" looks a lot like the proselytizing that they do to other religions. Persecution can look pretty different depending on what side of the fence you are standing on. Even more than basic doctrines, mormonism is concerned with imprinting on the lifelong member and new convert alike a shared sense of history, being a part of the story of mormonism. It is easier to tell people a story and then surround them with other people who affirm that same story, even if the average mormon is woefully ignorant of the actual history of their church and what their basics beliefs are. Doctrine takes a back seat to feelings, history is preeminent over theology. When your basic evangelism tool is to ask people to pray for a warm feeling about a book penned by a shyster in the 19th century, you certainly want to rely on feelings and not pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Mormon teaching, whether fast and testimony Sundays or General Conference talks or teaching in Elders Quorum is all about reaffirming the belief in the mormon story. If you are a former mormon, think about the talks you get at General Conference from "apostles". What is the general theme over and over, year after year? It is that mormonism is the "true church". You don't get deep teaching, you get stories. You don't get Scriptural exposition, you get anecdotes. So even when people completely abandon the teachings of mormonism, they still cling to the church because they still buy into the story even if they don't buy into what that story means.

The same is true of Roman Catholicism and other religious organizations that have deep cultural ties and family linkages. Many Catholics are simply Catholics because that is what they were born. They might never go to Mass, might not believe in the doctrines, but Catholic is how they were born and Catholic is how they will die. Similarly, many mormons flat out will not leave mormonism because they have so much invested into it that they cannot bear to walk away even after they stop believing.


gloria said...

Hi, arthur.

Your post reminds me of the many many nice people I met on my LDS mission to Argentina. Argentina by and large is predominately Catholic, and so many of the people I taught the mormon gospel too were catholic. When we knocked doors and shared the LDS message many would say " I am Roman Catholic. I was born Roman Catholic, baptized Roman Catholic and will die Roman Catholic." After a while, I began to ask these people which parish they attended..... most would say "oh I don't go to church, other than easter and christmas". They were most definately Culturalally Catholic.

The same could be said for some LDS. Some god because their ancestry is deeply embedded into the LDS church or because they enjoy the social or cultural aspects -- not necessarily because they have a testimony of the LDS gospel.

When God took me out of the LDS church I began to rub shoulderd with other Christians who had done the same -- I noticed something... some, not all had a hard time cutting ties with the LDS...perhaps it was because they had a loved one there, such as a spouse or a child, or as you say they missed being part of the 'group'.

That 'group' connection can be very powerful for some people and keeps them connected long after they stop believing in the LDS doctrines.

Funny thing, when God took me out. I left for good -- I didn't look back and I most definately do not miss the group in any way. The Lord did such a 360 degree change in my heart -- it is nothing short of a miracle.

In all honesty, Arthur -- there is not one thing I miss about mormonism. Not a day goes by that I don't thank the living God for His redemption from that religious system.

I also want to add that I think that this may be the case for many "religious" folks -- not just mormons or catholics. For those who are sadly deceived to think that religious observance and ritual is enough.

The Lord calls us to be born again.
John 3:3

That work is a work of God in our hearts.

We both have so much to be thankful for!

God bless,


ps. thanks for stepping in over at heart issues -- I really do appreciate it, and it became more heated after you left your posts. :)

God is good!

Andrew S said...

Nice post, Arthur.

I think the issue is...though, that people need a culture. People need a community. So, I mean, It's a testament if Mormonism or Catholicism can create such cultures, regardless of if this creates a kind of cultural irrelevance (e.g., Mormons who identify as Mormon but who don't know the beliefs; Catholics who only attend Christmas and Easter Masses, etc.,)

Of course, that doesn't make the doctrine true.

So, speaking from a neutral perspective (even though I don't claim to be neutral), I would say that what *every* group needs to get from this is the drive to build such a culture...but what they should do is try to bring a true sense of doctrinal awareness with that culture. Or, the Mormons or the Catholics should try to instill more doctrinal familiarity in their members as well.

Arthur Sido said...

Interesting thoughts Andrew, which are sparking another post in my main blog! I guess the question that your comments raise for me is this: are culture and community synonymous? I think there is a huge difference and one is healthy and Biblical, the other is not. More on this later!

Andrew S said...

Obviously, culture and community aren't synonymous, because you can have a community that fails to create a culture. Or rather, a community will create *some* culture, but it may not be the kind of culture you want.

I think culture is more important, because culture can change the actions of a person. I mean, of course, people have some degree of free will (whether actual or illusory), but when the chips are down, they break down into reliable reactions...this is based on whatever they internalized from culture.

So, if you have a Christian community but they internalize a non-Christian culture...your church is not doing anything and it is failing.

Anonymous said...

I think we have to stop looking at Mormons and the intermountain west as a "religion" and more of an ethnicity, every bit as real as being "Jewish." Mormons have a faith, culture and an identity in the ethnic sense.