Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why I Hate Mormon Culture

A frequent comment or attitude I've encountered in my recent faith journey is that I must have returned to the LDS Church because that is the culture I am most comfortable with. Being a polite and non-argumentative type, I usually let people say what they want to say and think what they want to think about my faith journey. But for those who care, nestling up in the bosom of Mormon culture is the last reason I can imagine for affiliating myself with the Church.

I hate Mormon culture. Mormon culture is homophobic. It is still probably quietly racist in large swaths of the Mormon populace, though great strides have been made in this area since 1978. There's a lot of right-wing arrogance that surfaces frequently in the form of attitudes that anyone who's not a Republican is probably deep down inside a testimony-lacking, godless heathen. Mormon culture is also rife with the sexist, Victorian women's pedestal mentality, despite the fact that much lip-service is paid to equality. And worst of all, there's a kind of rampant conformist mentality which amounts to casting everyone as "less-than" or as "sinner" if they don't follow a certain straight-arrow progression from baptism to priesthood to mission to temple marriage and oodles of babies.

I would, of course, be lying if I did not admit that there are some things I very much like about Mormon culture. I like that Mormons tend to be soft-spoken, honest, kind, hard-working, and generous (even the homophobic, sexist, racist ones). And Mormons place a high value on family, which I have seen at work for the good far more often than for the bad. Does the good stuff in the culture outweigh the bad? Probably not any more than the good in any culture counterbalances the bad.

You may take issue with any of the specifics of my portait of Mormon culture. Go right ahead. I'll concede every point you make. But it doesn't ultimately matter what Mormon culture is. The bottom line is, it is still culture. And if it were simply a matter of being a citizen of this or that particular culture, Mormon culture I could take or leave. It does not interest me any more than French culture, or American culture, or Catholic culture, or Jewish culture or Muslim culture or any other culture. Reconnecting with Mormon culture was certainly not my motivation when I put on a suit and tie in October 2005 and started quietly attending my local ward.

To my way of thinking, culture -- even Mormon culture -- is part and parcel of this worldly, sinful mess we are called to pack up our bags and leave when the voice of the Spirit calls to us. Culture -- even Mormon culture -- is hopelessly, fatally infected with pride and falsehood. It is ultimately an idol, used as a tool by the Prince of Lies to lull us into a false sense of security, and cut us off from God.

When we hear the voice of the Spirit, calling us out of Babylon, we must ultimately renounce culture. We become, ultimately, strangers in a strange land. We become people without a land, without a culture. We become people whose eyes have been opened to the fact that until Christ establishes his rule at the end of days, this place and all its ways are not and never can be home to us.

So take my Mormon culture, please!

16 comments:

J G-W said...

Oh, and BTW, BIV, this is my response to your "Calling You Out" meme. I tag Knight of Nothing, Cubezoo, Becky and Joseph, DanetteR, and Gentlefriend.

Go here for the rules.

playasinmar said...

You forgot to mention the Victorian women's pedestal is made of Jello.

Beck said...

"a certain straight-arrow progression from baptism to priesthood to mission to temple marriage and oodles of babies..."

You mean to say that there is another path to the celestial kingdom? I thought this was the only one?

Michael said...

amen

Thank you.

Michael said...

oh, and when I tried to submit my responses to the evil survey it told me there was an error.

J G-W said...

Playa - I think I saw those jello pedestals at the luncheon put on by the Relief Society during the last General Conference.

Beck - You scare me. It's a good thing I know you.

Michael - Welcome! I checked out your blog... I don't think I've ever seen a weight loss blog before!

Bored in Vernal said...

Excellent. I can only agree.

GeckoMan said...

And not just any jello, mind you; it must be GREEN jello, faithfully embellished with canned fruit cocktail or possibly pear halves. To have it any other way is simply suspect.

John, I agree with you that in-bred attitudes and cultural biases tend to grow in our collective associations, whether in the church, gaydom or anywhere else. Why? Because we're just people, searching for and promoting acceptance and assurance that OUR path is correct. In the Mormon culture it is the desire to be "true" at all costs, because of our perfectionistic belief system.

But if we can get past the small-mindedness of irritating people, and think on those people who we would rightfully call "Saints," the culture gets closer to celestial. What is it that sets these special individuals apart from the undesirable and sterotypical aspects of Mormon culture? I think the answer goes back to your closing idea: we withdraw from man's conventions and draw closer to the call of the Spirit.

This beckoning encourages us to practice tolerance on our part, to take in the saintly along with the sinner, and show forth consistent love of God and man, seeing the big picture, hoping for the promised second coming when false culture will be done away.

J G-W said...

Geckoman - Nicely put!

I actually don't think it is (or at least it should not be) a terribly controversial assertion among Mormons themselves that Mormon culture can be idolatrous, and that what we are about is obeying the Spirit. But we sometimes need to remind ourselves.

After I wrote this initial post, I thought about a little mind experiment. Let us imagine a Mormon culture NOT riven with flaws, but one that perfectly reflects the Divine Will for humanity and creation. This of course would be ZION, the land of the pure in heart, where all things are had in common, where we are one heart and one mind and live together in peace. Of course, were we to achieve this, scripture suggests that either we would be taken collectively up to Heaven, or Heaven would descend among us in the wake of the Second Coming. But imagine that we are still living in the moment between achieving this perfect identity between our culture and God's will, and the moment when God must take us into his bosom.

Could our "culture" save us?

And the answer, I still believe, would be NO. Such a culture comes into being only to the extent that we look not to culture for salvation, but to a living relationship with God.

alphie said...

I'm just stepping back here to give you a reaction to this in a larger American Culture kind of way.

I think the distaste for "culture" that you exhibit, and write so passionately about, is so much a part of the American Puritanical Tradition.

It certainly finds embodiment in New Mexico and Ms. O'Keefe's theatrical display of denial and "native purity." You know, all those clean adobe walls left empty like the landscape allowing the occupant of the house to get in touch with the cleasing force of the "desert sublime."

That line of thinking that leads away from the Italian Rococo to the American Minimalist is so present in this post.

And that you feel it so passionately is facinating.

J G-W said...

Alphie - interesting observation. Though I want to clarify, I'm not necessarily anti-culture, nor am I a minimalist. Culture is what it is, for good or ill. As I said, every culture has its good and bad aspects. It becomes problematic only when we make an idol out of it.

Culture tends to have cultic tendencies, as participants in any given culture tend to want to take the norms, mores and rules of that culture and turn them into divine law, and then judge those who don't perfectly conform themselves to it. These tendencies are more pronounced within (though not exclusive to) religious cultures.

There should be, within any community claiming to be grounded in a higher reality -- in a relationship to a living God -- a willingness to discern between idolatrous tendencies within the culture, and the demands of a God who transcends culture. Thus, while religious communities often have greater potential to become idolatrous, paradoxically they also have greater resources to recognize and dismantle this idolatry...

Practicing this kind of discernment requires a high degree of humility and compassion. It shouldn't turn us into crazed iconoclasts or ideologues. It shouldn't make us "puritanical." It should spur us to a recognition of our own idolatrous tendencies and awaken in us a desire to listen and learn.

Daniel said...

THANK YOU!!!! I couldn't agree more!!!!

J G-W said...

Thanks, Daniel! I'm glad you appreciated this...

Daniel said...

You're welcome. I realize this is an old post, but I share many of your thoughts. Time and again I have seen how often the pure truths of God (the REAL gospel), the shaming & perfectionistic culture, and right-wing Republicanism get all mixed up into a pot, and then people take out a scoop and call it "the gospel" or "God's will." It's NOT. My life certainly has not followed the ideal of Aaronic Priesthood--Elder--Mission--Temple Marriage--Babies--go to BYU--6-figure income--house with white picket fence--be elders quorum president. Not AT ALL. I seriously long for the time when all this crap will be behind us and the true Zion will be on earth.

J G-W said...

That's what I yearn and pray for every day as well...

It is an old post, but I still feel basically the same way.

I still see God at work pushing us to transcend our cultural limitations, in exchange for a kingdom of Love.

Julia said...

I love this. Wonderfully said, John.